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

What to watch at Drake Relays, Penn Relays

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Olympic gold medalists ramp up their track and field seasons at the Penn Relays and Drake Relays, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold this weekend.

Athletes are working toward the U.S. Championships in June and the world championships in August.

First, the historic Penn Relays will air on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold on Friday (5:30-6:30 p.m. ET) and Saturday (12:30-3 p.m. ET).

USA vs. The World in men’s and women’s 4x100m, 4x400m and sprint medley relays will air live on Saturday from Franklin Field in Philadelphia. A full schedule is here.

The U.S. teams are led by Olympic relay champions English Gardner and Natasha Hastings. The full roster is here.

Rio Olympic rematches highlight the individual-event fields at the Drake Relays in Des Moines on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold from 3-5 p.m ET on Saturday. A full schedule is here.

Perhaps no field is deeper than the 100m hurdles. World-record holder Keni Harrison takes on Rio silver and bronze medalists Kristi Castlin and Nia Ali, plus 2008 Olympic champion Dawn Harper-Nelson.

The 110m hurdles contingent is strong as well. It features the last two Olympic champions, Jamaican Omar McLeod and American Aries Merritt, plus 2013 World champion David Oliver.

Grenada’s Kirani James and American LaShawn Merritt, who earned silver and bronze in Rio, go head-to-head again in the 400m at Drake.

The men’s 1500m is headlined by Rio Olympic 800m bronze medalist Clayton Murphy and London Olympic 1500m silver medalist Leo Manzano.

Rio bronze medalist Jenny Simpson races individually for the first time this year in the women’s 1500m.

That field also includes New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin, who gained fame of her own in Rio. Hamblin and American Abbey D’Agostino fell in an Olympic 5000m heat and helped each other make it to the finish line. Both were praised for their sportsmanship.

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IOC president unsure whether esports should be considered sport

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Esports are gaining momentum in the international sports movement, but they are not close to becoming an Olympic sport.

“We are not yet 100 percent clear whether esports is really sport, with regard to physical activity and what it needs to be considered sport,” IOC president Thomas Bach said Tuesday, according to insidethegames. “We do not see an organization or a structure that will give us confidence, or guarantee, that in this area the Olympic rules and values of sport are respected and in place, and that the implementation of these rules are monitored and secured.”

The first clear step (of many) to become an Olympic sport is for the IOC to recognize the sport’s international governing body.

Esports will be added as a medal sport to the Asian Games in 2022, and has been praised by LA 2024 Olympic bid chairman Casey Wasserman, but it is not yet IOC recognized.

“We are watching it, we see the differences, we see the lack of organisation,” Bach said, according to the report. “But we also see the high engagement of youth in esports. Therefore, we have to carefully consider how this could be consolidated.”

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