IOC leaves Istanbul impressed by 2020 Olympic bid

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ISTANBUL (AP) -- The IOC came away with an "excellent impression" Wednesday of Istanbul's bid for the 2020 Olympics, stressing that the city's multi-billion-dollar infrastructure budget will be spent whether or not Turkey gets the games.

Wrapping up a four-day tour to assess Istanbul's fifth bid for the Olympics, IOC Vice President Craig Reedie said his evaluation panel was impressed by the strong government and business support.

Istanbul is competing against Madrid and Tokyo. The IOC panel has already visited those two cities. The full International Olympic Committee will choose the 2020 host city by secret ballot on Sept. 7 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

After four previous failed bids, Istanbul is touting its robust economy, plans for modern venues and games staged on two continents to advance its 2020 campaign. Istanbul straddles both Asia and Europe.

Istanbul's infrastructure budget of 19.2 billion is by far the highest of the three bid cities - compared to $1.9 billion for Madrid and $4.9 billion for Tokyo.

Turkey intends to spend on infrastructure projects to address Istanbul's transportation problem, including a third airport and new rail and road links connecting the city's European and Asian sides.

Turkey, which will celebrate the centenary of the creation of the republic in 2023, says the projects will go ahead even if Istanbul loses its bid

"This is what the city estimates it will spend ... at the time of the games," IOC executive director Gilbert Felli said. "The trains, the road, the railway, the development of the new city - it's part of what they are going to do anyway for the 2023 anniversary of the country. Even if the games are not coming here... this will be spent."

Felli said the visit had provided the panel with a clearer picture of Turkey's projects.

"Now we have a much better understanding of the tunnels, the metro, the buses (and) how people will be moved from one place to the other," he said. "We have a much better understanding of which projects have already started."

Reedie said the IOC witnessed the "strong support" from the Turkish government as well as from Turkey's business community, which has already pledged $20 million in sponsorship.

A public opinion poll conducted by the IOC showed Istanbul's bid has the support of 83 percent of city residents and 76 percent of Turkey's population.

Turkish Youth and Sports Minister Suat Kilic said the bid has the government's full support and the country pledged "to deliver on its promises."

He dismissed suggestions that Istanbul may present a less safe bet than its rivals.

"Problems that have occurred in other cities will not be an issue in Istanbul," Kilic said. "We gave that guarantee to the panel and I am giving it to you now."

The Istanbul bid committee sounded upbeat.

"My first impression is Turkey and Istanbul did very well," bid chairman Hasan Arat told The Associated Press. "We have fantastic support from our government, from our president and prime minister. They are totally behind the bid, giving the guarantees. That makes Istanbul very strong."

Next up for the bid cities are presentations in May to an Olympic conference in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Reedie's panel will produce a report assessing the three bids that will be submitted to IOC members ahead of a technical briefing in July in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Arat said one of Turkey's deputy prime minister will lead the delegation to the July meeting, while Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will attend the vote in Buenos Aires.