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Istanbul 2020 bid leaves "excellent impression"

International Olympic Committee (IOC) Vice President and chairman of the IOC Evaluation Commission Craig Reedie speaks during a news confere
International Olympic Committee (IOC) Vice President and chairman of the IOC Evaluation Commission Craig Reedie speaks during a news confere

By Daren Butler

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Istanbul's presentation of its bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games left an "excellent impression" the head of the evaluation commission said on Wednesday.

Turkey's largest city, which is competing with Tokyo and Madrid for the 2020 Games, presented its candidacy to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) commission, headed by IOC vice president Craig Reedie, this week.

Turkish officials highlight the bid as offering the first opportunity for a secular Muslim democracy to host the Games, which would also be the first staged on two continents - Europe and Asia.

"These (visits) have been extremely well organized and we have an excellent impression of the skills and enthusiasm of the bid committee," Reedie told a news conference.

Keen to avoid indicating a preference for any of the three candidate cities, he added: "Excellent impression in my world is exactly the same as 'hugely impressed' or 'greatly impressed'," referring to his comments about Tokyo and Madrid.

Istanbul's projected infrastructure budget of $19.2 billion is vastly higher than the figures touted for Tokyo and Madrid, but the IOC's Olympic Games executive director Gilbert Felli said most of this sum was not tied to the Games.

"Even if the Games are not coming here, most of this budget will be spent," Felli said. "The development of the new city of Istanbul, the new constructions, is part of what they are going to do anyway."

Each city delivered their candidature files to the IOC in January and on-site inspections by an evaluation commission were held in Tokyo and Madrid earlier this month. Technical assessments will be published at the beginning of July.

Reedie said the commission was impressed by the strong government and business community support for the Istanbul bid.

YOUNG POPULATION

Sports minister Suat Kilic highlighted this as well as the country's young population and dynamic economy as assets of the bid.

Prime minister Tayyip Erdogan has transformed Turkey during his decade in power into the fastest-growing economy in Europe and raised the country's profile as a regional power in the Middle East.

The country has also enhanced its sporting profile over the last decade, with increased sporting success and growing experience in hosting international events.

However, Istanbul's growing population, currently around 14 million, has raised questions about the city's ability to handle the transport challenges presented by the Games.

Istanbul, like Turkey as a whole, is a major tourist destination, used to handling large numbers of visitors. In 2012, the total number of foreign visitors to Turkey rose 1.04 percent to 31.8 million people, according to official statistics.

Istanbul was the third most visited city in Europe after London and Paris, and the fifth most visited city in the world last year, bid organizers said. With over 9 million guests in 2012, the number of visitors increased by 16 percent from the previous year.

Kilic played down concerns that Istanbul's bid could be undermined by the problems which have faced organizing committees for previous Olympics.

"We gave the guarantee to the commission that the problems which are mentioned as having happened in other places will not happen in Turkey," he said.

In December, organizers for the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics were told by the IOC they needed to push on with their preparations because time was an issue.

Istanbul is bidding for the fifth time in the last six votes.

The decision on who will host the 2020 Games will be taken by the IOC in September.

(Editing by Alison Wildey)

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