By Duncan Mackay

Egemen Bağış Istanbul March 2013March 2 - Istanbul's bid to host the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics could help Turkey's campaign to join the European Union, it has been claimed by one of the country's most senior politicians.

Egemen Bağış (pictured top), Turkey's European Union Minister and the chief negotiator in the accession talks, claimed that it could help erode the prejudices which he believes is blocking Turkey's membership.

Turkey has been trying to join the European Union, an economic and political union of 27 member states and which is the world's largest trading bloc, since 1987. 

But their membership has been consistently blocked by opponents amid fears over its European identity and mistrust of its largely Muslim population.

"Our bid to host the Olympics will help us eliminate the biggest obstacle in our bid to becoming a member of the European Union: prejudice," said Bağış during the International Sports Summit, which was held in Istanbul.

"People who visit Turkey as tourists leave the country as friends of Turkey and supporters of the country's EU membership bid.

"The Olympic bidding process will be an opportunity to host many people in Turkey and also an opportunity to tell about ourselves to those who cannot come through international campaigns.

"That's why I consider [Sports Minister] Suat Kılıç as a natural member of the negotiating team [with the European Union], while I also consider myself a member of Turkey's Olympic bid team.

"Istanbul has had many roles in history; it was the capital of the Byzantine Empire, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, the European Capital of Culture and the [European Capital of Sport].

"The only role it lacks is being an Olympic city, and I hope that it will have it by 2020."

The International Olympic Committee's Evaluation Commission, headed by Britain's Sir Craig Reedie, is due to visit Turkey's financial capital to inspect its bid on March 24.

Ken Livingstone at Istanbul conference March 2013.jpg-largeKen Livingstone, London's Mayor during its successful bid to host the 2012 Olympics, claimed he would vote for Istanbul to hold the Games in 2020 if he was a member of the IOC

Istanbul's bid has also been supported by Ken Livingstone, who worked closely with Sir Craig when he was London's Mayor during their successful bid for the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. 

"The world is changing, and the Olympics should reflect this change," he said during a visit to the city to attend the International Sports Summit.

"Istanbul would not have been suitable to host the Games 20 years ago, but each time I visit here, things change.

"Turkey is really ready to host the Games.

"If I was a member of the [International Olympic] Committee, then I would use my vote for Istanbul."

Livingstone is the latest senior British politician to support Istanbul.

Britain's Sports Minister Hugh Robertson visited the city last month with several UK companies involved in London 2012 hoping for work there if Istanbul's bid is successful, while Livingstone's successor as London Mayor, Boris Johnson, has also publicly voiced his support. 

"There are a lot of things I and Boris cannot agree on," Livingstone said.

"But we agree on two things, supporting Istanbul's Olympic bid and Turkey's EU bid."

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