May 9 - Istanbul's bid for the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics remains a national priority, Turkey's Sports Minister Suat Kılıç (pictured) has claimed, despite it looking increasingly likely that the country will be offered the opportunity to host football's European Championships in the same year.
In an effort to prove the fact a new strategic plan has been launched with Istanbul's bid identified as a key catalyst for dramatic social change.
Under the plan revealed today by the National Olympic Committee of Turkey (NOCT), a key objective is realising the country's largely untapped sporting potential and making Turkey one of the world's leading sporting nations by 2020, when it hopes to stage the Games.
The announcement was made in the presence of Kiliç, alongside leading members of the NOCT, Turkish Olympic medallists, members of Turkey's team for London 2012, and National Federation Presidents, and he took the opportunity to try to dispel fears that Istanbul's bid could be scuppered by UEFA awarding Turkey the European Championships.
The deadline for Euro 2020 bids closes next Tuesday (May 15) and so far Turkey is the only bidder.
They have received the backing of UEFA President Michel Platini, but he has already said publicly that he does not believe that the country is capable of hosting both the European Championships and the Olympics in the same year.
Turkish officials, though, have already started privately lobbying key International Olympic Committee (IOC) members that they believe it is possible to stage both major events, a policy apparently endorsed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (pictured).
"Our Prime Minister announced the bid himself, and Istanbul 2020 retains the same support from the same highest level," said Kılıç.
"We will fulfil every requirement to win the right to host the Games, under the leadership of our Prime Minister.
"We believe that sport carries great importance in building a strong future for our children.
"We are determined to raise and advance our talented young population through a strong bond between education and sport.
"Turkey has hosted many Olympic events in recent years.
"They have increased Turkish citizens' passion for Olympic sports and provided them with valuable organisational experience.
"Turkey is now ready to be a strong partner of the International Olympic Committee.
"As the Minister of Youth and Sport, I wholeheartedly support the efforts of Turkish National Olympic Committee in developing Turkish sport."
Istanbul is also suffering from the fact that it still has to officially announce a bid leader, even though it is more than two months now since Kılıç told a gathering of international Olympic journalists that a person had been approached to run the campaign.
But Hasan Arat, the vice-president of the NOCT and a successful businessman, who is widely assumed to have been identified as the bid leader, claimed that the new strategic plan would build on the early benefits that the Istanbul bid has already brought.
"For many young athletes there is often a difficulty in balancing education and sport, and for turning a passion for sport into a career," he said.
"Thanks to Turkey's growing economy, and its stable political situation, we are now in a position to be able to devote the investment needed to solving this problem, with Istanbul's 2020 bid as the catalyst.
"Already our bid is connecting the Olympic Movement with the country's young population, raising its profile among a brand new audience.
"But there is a lot still to be done; this new strategy is just an early indicator of the changes the 2020 Games could inspire in our country."
Arat's claim was echoed by Professor Ugur Erdener (pictured above with Kılıç), President of the NOCT and of World Archery, who claimed that their rivals Baku, Doha, Madrid and Tokyo should not underestimate Istanbul.
"Our objective is clear: we want to inject ideals of Olympism in our public through Olympic values and provide a strong representation of our nation in the international sports arena," he said.
"Our athletes are the guides spreading the spirit of Olympism.
"They respect and protect the Olympic values, they are our heroes who inspire the future generations.
"This plan is the first step in a long term project which covers the Turkish National Olympic Committee's objective to host 2020 Olympic Games and taking Turkish sport to new horizons."
Contact the writer of this story at duncan.mackay[email protected]
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