Turkish riot police face anti-government protesters on Istiklal avenue, the main shopping street of Istanbul Image: Vadim Ghirda/AP/Press Association Images
Michael Rubin is an expert on Middle Eastern relations, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former staff adviser at the Pentagon. He believes awarding the Olympics to Istanbul would discourage the ruling regime from reforming.
Why are you against Istanbul hosting the 2020 Olympics?
I once supported Istanbul as an Olympic city. But I think [the international endorsement of winning the Games] could undermine reform in Turkey rather than encourage it. The Gezi Park protests were a real backlash against the increasingly autocratic style of [Turkish Prime Minister] Erdogan and reinforced my thesis that the economic drive in Turkey has created a great deal of social unrest. People are worried about the fairness with which development is occurring. Winning the Games would mean that Erdogan can simply put all the blame [for development] on the International Olympic Committee and say this is what’s required by the international community: and I’m not sure whether that’s what the Olympics are really about.
Turkish riot police fire teargas in Istanbul, during clashes with anti-government demonstrators in Istanbul, Image: Vadim Ghirda/AP/Press Association Images
Do you have any other reasons for opposing the bid?
When the Prime Minister started talking about Turkey’s application for 2020 in the context of religious affirmative action, because no Muslim state has already had it, I think that’s a dangerous precedent to set … Once you go down the path of choosing the Olympics by the religion of the host [country], that can be a very slippery slope.
A protester takes cover from a Turkish riot police water canon during clashes in Taksim Square in Istanbul Image: Vadim Ghirda/AP/Press Association Images
What were your thoughts before Gezi Park?
Turkey is at a turning point right now in the peace process with the Kurds. I get the sense that peace is far from assured. And often the situation becomes most dangerous once a process begins, because on both sides of the issues you have spoilers who want to ruin that process. In this case putting the Olympics in Turkey at the height of the process could actually encourage the spoilers and discourage peace. The issue isn’t whether Turkey should get the Olympics – some day it should – but the question is whether 2020 would do more harm than good.Istanbul’s Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge connects Europe and Asia. While Rubin and the citizens of Istanbul believe the Olympics can bring Asia and Europe together, Rubin believes 2020 is too soon for Istanbul to host the games. Image: AP/Press Association Images
What should be the main criteria for awarding the Olympics to a country?
The ability of the country to host them, to put forward a successful Games and provide security for the Games; it comes down to that.
Protesters have called for the Winter 2014 Olympic Games to be taken away from Sochi, Russia, because of a new Russian law that is seen to be anti-gay Image: Lefteris Pitarakis/AP/Press Association Images
How does Turkey compare to Sochi? Should the Sochi Games be moved?
I think it’s probably too late to do that right now. But ultimately, that would be a good test case to see … But Russia is one case, Turkey is another. I’d argue Turkey is a little bit more tense right now than even Russia is.
The opening ceremony of the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo Image: AP Photo
Who should host the 2020 Olympics?
I worry about Madrid’s ability given their economic situation, and I would suggest that leaves Tokyo, even though Tokyo has been a host previously.
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