Istanbul’s chances of hosting 2020 Olympics

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The International Olympic Committee will make the first of three major votes at its session in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Saturday.

Nearly 100 IOC members will choose the host city of the 2020 Olympics — Istanbul, Madrid or Tokyo — via secret ballot beginning at 2:45 p.m. Eastern Time with the winner scheduled to be announced between 4 and 4:30. For more on what happens Saturday, click here.

OlympicTalk will look at the chances each city has of winning the vote. Here is a rundown of Istanbul:

Turkey’s largest city (population 13 million) was the trendy pick to host the 2020 Olympics by reporters in 2013 prediction columns nine months ago. The bridge between Europe and Asia wasn’t as steady as Madrid or Tokyo, but its economy and sporting desire were growing together, hosting major events in golf, soccer, swimming and tennis. Its slogan has long been “Bridge Together,” with the phrase “History in the Making” becoming its theme in the final days.

The last few months have not been kind to Istanbul’s prospects. More than two million people participated in anti-government protests in Turkey in June. Five were killed and more than 8,000 injured, according to reports. Tear gas and rubber bullets were used by authorities. Thousands gathered in Istanbul’s Taksim Square and other areas calling for the resignation of the prime minister, who will reportedly fly to Buenos Aires to help pitch Istanbul 2020.

Then one of the largest doping scandals in sports history enveloped the country, especially its track and field program that includes Olympic medalists. In August, Turkey’s track and field federation suspended 31 athletes for two years. Granted, one could argue that’s a positive for Turkey, that the nation is catching cheats with seven years to clean it up altogether.

“The fact that so many doping tests are being conducted and athletes are being exposed is having a positive impact on the Olympic world. It is a show of Turkey’s determination to stamp out doping and its determination to clean up sports,” Istanbul 2020 bid leader Hasan Arat said, according to The Associated Press. “We are determined to go into the 2020 Games with clean athletes. This is a zero-tolerance (for doping) step and Turkey will not make any concessions on the issue.”

The current civil war in Syria, which borders Turkey to the south, is not helping, either.

Istanbul 2020’s promotional video

So, how does Istanbul stack up? The AP described its status as “slipping.”

Robert Livingstone is the producer of GamesBids.com, a website dedicated to handicapping Olympic bid cities since 1998. He said that, despite Istanbul’s noted question marks, much can change in seven years between the vote and the actual staging of the Games.

The IOC has never awarded the Games to a predominantly Muslim country, which could work in Istanbul’s favor given the 2016 Olympics were awarded to Rio de Janeiro, marking the first Games held in South America.

“The Olympic movement can open the door to a new culture,” Arat, a former pro basketball player, told Agence France-Press. “It can bridge Olympic culture to new culture. A new bridge to historical impact, with 8,000 years of history the Olympic movement is not just giving the Olympic Games to a city — they (the IOC) would be giving hope, trust and peace to a region.”

Istanbul would globalize the Olympics more than Madrid or Tokyo, whose nations hosted previous Olympics.

“There’s no doubt (Istanbul) could get the job done from an infrastructure and organizational perspective,” Livingstone said. “They have to sell the IOC that it’s a good place to go.”

Istanbul didn’t come close to convincing the IOC on four previous occasions — 2000 (fifth place among five finalists), 2004 (didn’t make final cut of five cities), 2008 (fourth of five) and 2012 (didn’t make final cut of five cities).

“This is their best chance ever,” Livingstone said. “Time has passed, and they’ve made all those improvements. They moved from a developing nation to a developed nation. The way these votes go, they definitely have a chance. Nobody’s ruled out.”

GamesBids.com rated Istanbul a close second to Tokyo in its most recent predictions. The gap between Istanbul and third-place Madrid is more than three times the gap between Tokyo and Istanbul, according to GamesBids’ formula.

Livingstone, covering his fourth IOC bid city session this week, said he thought the vote will go like this: Madrid will advance through the first round with a strong contingent of voters with either Istanbul or Tokyo eliminated. From there, the voters of the eliminated city could pool with the one still alive, potentially overtaking Madrid.

“Istanbul’s in the race, but it’s a tricky one to handicap,” Livingstone said. “It’s going to be pretty tight.”

Key information for IOC session in Buenos Aires

Sweden drops 2026 Winter Olympic bid

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The city of Stockholm says it won’t bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics.

Karin Wanngard, the city official in charge of finances, says the reason is because the International Olympic Committee will not be able to report how big the financial contribution to the host city will be.

She says the figures “will arrive at the earliest in November.”

The Swedish lawmaker, whose Social Democratic Party had been supportive of hosting the event, adds “this means that time will be too short to get enough analysis for the issues raised by several actors.”

The Swedish capital, which hosted the 1912 Summer Olympics, has never staged the Winter Games. The cities of Ostersund, Falun and Goteborg all have mounted failed winter bids.

The news comes six days after the Swedish Olympic Committee named a CEO for the 2026 bid.

In January, the committee said that Stockholm staging the 2026 Winter Olympics was “possible and desirable” and that a formal bid was expected in March 2018.

In 2015, Stockholm pulled out of the race for the 2022 Winter Games after Swedish politicians refused to give financial backing. Swedish politicians were uncomfortable because of concerns over costs, the environment, post-Games use of venues, the environment and other issues.

The early 2026 bid plan called for 80 percent of the events in Stockholm, while most of the Alpine competitions would be in the northern resort of Are, more than 600 kilometers (400 miles) from the capital. A few skiing events would be in Falun, 215 kilometers (130 miles) northwest from there.

The 2026 Winter Olympics have one bidder — Sion, Switzerland.

Cities in Austria, Canada, Japan and have also discussed potential 2026 bids, as has Lillehammer, Norway, the 1994 Winter Olympic host. The U.S. is not expected to bid for the 2026 Winter Games.

The next two Winter Olympics will be in East Asia in PyeongChang in 2018 and Beijing in 2022, giving a European or North American city a greater opening to be the 2026 host.

The 2026 Olympic host city is expected to be chosen from an International Olympic Committee members vote in 2019.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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MORE: 2026 Olympics coverage

Serena Williams comments on 2020 Olympics during pregnancy

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Two weeks after learning she was pregnant, Serena Williams was unsure of committing to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Williams will be 38 in 2020, older than any previous Olympic singles player.

“I can’t promise that … Tokyo 2020 is a lot,” Williams told Wowow TV of Japan after winning the Australian Open on Jan. 28.

Williams said Tuesday in a Ted Talk that she learned of her pregnancy two days before the Australian Open (video here). She was about two months pregnant at the time.

Williams broke the news publicly last week on Snapchat but deleted the post. A spokesperson later confirmed that Williams was pregnant and planned to return to tennis next season.

“Actually, it was an accident,” Williams said Tuesday of the Snapchat. “I was on vacation, just taking some time for myself. I have this thing where I’ve been checking my status and taking pictures every week to see how far along I’ve been going. … You know how social media is, you press the wrong button and there it was. Thirty minutes later, I missed like four calls. I’m like, that’s weird. Then I picked it up, and I was like, oh no. But it was a good moment. I was going to wait, literally, just five or six more days. That’s OK.”

The four-time Olympic champion has made no public comments since last week about the 2020 Olympics.

Williams confirmed Tuesday that she played the entire Australian Open knowing she was pregnant. She won her 23rd Grand Slam singles title, beating older sister Venus in the final.

Williams said she was nervous after finding out she was pregnant two days before the tournament.

“I wasn’t quite sure what to think, but I just knew that at that moment, it was really important me to focus right there at the Australian Open,” she said. “I was definitely not sure what to do. I was like, can I play? I know it’s very dangerous, maybe, sometimes, in the first 12 weeks or so.”

Williams said she didn’t get sick during the tournament. She had heard about people getting tired, or really stressed out.

“I had to really take all that energy, put it in a paper bag, so to say, and throw it away,” she said. “Because I really felt like I didn’t have time to deal with any extra emotions, anything, because, pregnant or not, no one knew, and I was supposed to win that tournament, as I am every tournament that I show up, I am expected to win, and if I don’t win, it’s actually much bigger news.”

Williams is “excited to defy the odds” and return to the WTA Tour next season. She wouldn’t be the first elite player to compete after having a baby.

In January, Williams said Venus, who is 15 months older, is “crazy” and “something special” for targeting the 2020 Olympics.

“I’m really inspired by my sister,” Williams said Tuesday. “If she’s still playing, I know I can play. There’s so many. Roger Federer, he’s a little older than me, and he’s still winning everything, so I’m like, you know, I know I can do that, too. … My story is definitely not over yet. I was talking to my coach about it, and we were talking about. This is just a new part of my life. My baby’s going to be in the stands, and hopefully cheering for me, not crying too much.”

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