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Olympics: Istanbul hopes for fifth time lucky in 2020 bid

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The International Olympic Committee's evaluation commission arrives in Istanbul on Saturday, with the Turkish city hoping to win over officials and bag the 2020 Games after four unsuccessful previous attempts.

Commission members begin their four-day tour of the huge city that straddles Asia and Europe on Sunday after previously assessing the rivals bids of Tokyo and Madrid, who are also in the running to host the event in seven years' time.

A decision will be taken at an IOC meeting in the Argentinian capital Buenos Aires in September but Istanbul organisers say that they have their strongest bid to date and that their previous failures will be a key element in the final vote.

Rio de Janeiro will be the first South American city to host the Olympics at the next edition in 2016. If Istanbul win the 2020 bid, it takes the Games to a Muslim majority country for the first time.

"This time we are truly committed," said sports minister Suat Kilic this month, after Turkey's bid clinched sponsorship from seven giant enterprises, including Koc, Dogus and Sabanci conglomerates, each chipping in 2.5 million euros ($3.2 million).

"I know it by heart, we will succeed," said Kilic, adding that work was in progress for the construction of more than 700 sports facilities, including Olympic swimming pools and tennis courts, in what he dubbed Turkey's "sports revolution".

The commission will be given a tour of the city of 15 million people and visit facilities as several Turkish ministers will try to convince them that Istanbul deserves to win.

Ministers will brief members on the financing and marketing plans for the organisation, as well as the logistics that will see to the needs of the millions of visitors expected to pour in to Istanbul if the bid is successful.

Istanbul's bid comes as a key element in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) campaign to repurpose Istanbul into a world capital by 2023, which will also be the centenary of the republic.

The government sees Istanbul's traffic problem as its major vulnerability and is moving quickly to construct alternative tunnels, highways and an undersea train line to ease the city's chronic congestion.

The makeover also includes the building of Turkey's largest airport in Istanbul, expected to be operational in 2016 with an initial capacity to handle 100 million passengers a year through six runways.

The airport is a key part of what the Istanbul 2020 campaign said would be "quick, comfortable and convenient transport solutions for all athletes, and the wider Olympic family".

"No country with a majority of Muslim population has ever hosted the Olympics," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last year, as he claimed Turkey had "no flaws" that could prevent it from holding the Games with success.

"Madrid was the host twice and Tokyo has hosted three games," Erdogan added. Istanbul... has never been handed the rights. This is not a fair approach," he added.

The committee left Madrid on Thursday after a similar inspection of the Spanish capital, which had received a higher score than Tokyo and Istanbul after initial IOC reports last May.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130322/olympics-istanbul-hopes-fifth-time-lucky-2020-bid