Recep T. Erdoğan in Buenos Aires: Just for Olympics

In the middle of a big excitement about the candidacy of Istanbul for hosting 2020 Olympic Games, Recep T. Erdoğan flew from San Petersburg to Buenos Aires which is the longest flight of Turkish Airlines – a non-stop flight of 16 hour – to support Istanbul along with Suat Kılıç, Minister of Youth and Sports and Kadir Topbaş, Mayor of Istanbul. In front of the largest city of Turkey were Tokyo and Madrid, hard candidates but declining because of the Fukushima accident of 2011 in Japan and the severe economic crisis of Spain respectively.

Istanbul had unsuccessfully bid four times for the Olympics in 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012. This time was not different. During the International Olympic Committee (IOC) meeting in Buenos Aires, Tokyo won the final, 60 to 36 votes and Turkey’s dream of the Olympics fell down. The main question about this issue is that why Istanbul was defeated by Tokyo in a context that seemed more positive than other times.

Despite its project and the important projected infrastructure budget of $19.2 billion, the candidature cut down because of the unstable regional environment, organization problems and the growing social discontent especially in Istanbul and other major cities in Turkey such as Hatay, İzmir and Ankara.

Turkey is now in the middle of a regional turmoil due to the Syrian Civil War and the possibility of military intervention of United States – and its allies – to the region. The spread of “Arab Spring” and its bloody consequences in Egypt and Syria has complicated Turkish foreign policies related to Middle East based on the “Zero-Problems Foreign Policy” that turned a security-oriented agenda into a trade-oriented one. Turkey chose its side with Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and with the opposition in Syria – Syrian National Council -, generating rising disagreement with Iran, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

The G-20 Summit witnessed the division between those who supported the military intervention in Syria and those who not supported. Erdoğan has supported the U.S. position while mostly of all the emerging powers like Russia, China, India, Brazil, Indonesia and Argentina seeking a peaceful political settlement for the Syrian conflict. After this, any hope to develop bilateral meetings in Buenos Aires was discarded. His visit in Buenos Aires was really short. The most important activity, aside from lobbying for Olympics, was the meeting with the Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani where they talked about bilateral and regional issues.

The problems in the organization committee had been related with drug-test failures -Turkish Athletics Federation banned 32 athletes for drug violations-, the communication mistakes in a country with a lack of tradition in Olympic sports and an excessive focus on infrastructure and economic benefits.

The last but not the least, Istanbul’s bid has been undermined in recent months due to Gezi Park demonstrations (1). Generally it can be said that members of the IOC do not get satisfied with demonstrations, riots, disturbances and governmental repression. They prefer a calm and predictable social environment for Olympics. The choice of 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil seems enough for them. Recep T. Erdoğan received two bad news in Buenos Aires; Istanbul won’t host the 2020 Olympics and the Gezi Park issue is still on the agenda. The small protest in front of the Hilton Hotel Buenos Aires supporting Gezi activists can be an example of the continuity of this subject.

The Gezi protests will resurface in Turkey’s agenda once again in relation to 2020 Olympics voting and provide grounds for new tensions and polemics between Erdoğan and his opposition (2), for example the ongoing protest of students of Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ), one of the most important public university located in Ankara, against the municipality’s plan to build a new road through the ODTÜ campus.

However, the world’s not over and Erdoğan still has initiative to change the course of the public opinion although margins are getting narrower. The political hegemony of AKP has been built since 2003 is still very strong. The politics is the art of possibility to change or remain unchanged and Erdoğan knows it.

Ariel González Levaggi, Latin America Representative, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (Research Turkey)

Please cite this publication as follows:

Levaggi, Ariel González (September, 2013), “Recep T. Erdoğan in Buenos Aires: Just for Olympics ”, Vol. II, Issue 7, pp.32-33, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, Research Turkey. (


 (1) Albayrak A., 2013. İstanbul loses 2020 Olympics to Tokyo, Turkey asking why [Online] Available at:
[Accessed September 2013].

(2) Cengiz Ç., 2013. Erdogan, Istanbul Lose 2020 Olympics to Tokyo [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed September 2013].


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