Will Istanbul’s transport investments set it apart?


Haliç metro bridge under construction.


It has been about two weeks since Tokyo, Madrid, and Istanbul participated in the IOC’s official London 2012 Games debriefing in Rio de Janeiro. As these candidate cities return home to place the finishing touches on their bid books for the 2020 Games, the question is will they be able to match London’s successes and what will set them apart as the most promising candidate city to the IOC Evaluation Commission?

It should be no surprise to our readers that BID expects Istanbul’s significant transportation investments made over the course of its multiple Olympic bids, as well as the political will and resources these repeat bids have coalesced, to make it a standout candidate city in the eyes of the IOC. Hasan Arat, Istanbul’s bid champion and former vice-president of the National Olympic Committee of Turkey, has indicated that it is these strengths which will allow Istanbul 2020 to match the success and technical capability of the 2012 Games:

Istanbul is a bustling metropolis spanning two continents—but in 2020 we will still be able to offer athletes average travel times of 20 minutes or less […] These ambitious infrastructure developments show our country’s determination to deliver on all our promises to the Olympic family and match London’s organization excellence. The strength of Turkey’s economy and the committed support from all levels of government mean we are better placed than ever to realize our vision. (Hasan Arat)

If it turns out fifth time’s the charm for Istanbul, it will be exciting to see the trend of a truly global Games continue where emerging economies are actively pursing and playing host to the Olympics.  It will also be instructive to understand how decades of bidding will ultimately shape their Olympic Games.

BID expects Istanbul’s impressive mega-event resume and smart infrastructure investments to pay dividends in terms of their ability to buck the trend of net economic losses from hosting the Games.  Goldman Sachs economist Jose Ursua’s August report on “The Economy of the Olympics” seems to support this point of view. Ursua explains that while “the potential for economic benefits from hosting the Olympics is obviously country-specific […] a country with a better physical infrastructure […] will likely be in a better position to minimize the costs and maximize the benefits associated with the Games.”

During the past seven years alone, Istanbul has invested on average of $1.2 billion each year upgrading its transportation infrastructure. Here is a short list of the major transport investments we can expect to see just in the next three years:

  • 2013: Haliç metro will open across the Golden Horn with a capacity of one million passengers daily.
  • 2014: Istanbul’s third airport will open with a capacity to move 150 million passengers annually.
  • 2015: Work will begin on a third bridge to ease downtown traffic.

These three mega-projects, combined with almost two decades of foundational and aspirational transportation development are game-changers regardless of the outcome of the 2020 bid.  The IOC will announce their choice for the 2020 Olympics on September 7, 2013, and then the world will see if pricey infrastructure investments equate to Olympic Gold.


Carnival and Cars: Will the Olympics Accelerate Transportation Development in Brazil?


 Photo compliments of The Guardian.

With the conclusion of what has been considered a banner year for the Olympics and Paralympics in London, the world’s attention now turns toward Brazil. This emerging economy will host the world’s two largest mega sporting events within two years of each other—the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016. Despite the Brazilian government’s optimistic confirmation that “A new city is being born”, many people question Brazil’s readiness to host these events. Rio de Janeiro’s mountainous terrain and dense population of 6 million residents contribute to what may be the greatest test of their readiness: the nation’s ability to transport people.

Brazil is no newbie when it comes to hosting mega events—just last summer it played host to thousands attending the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. And in terms of sporting events, the nation hosted the Pan American Games in 2007, the CISM 5th Military World Games in 2011, and will also host the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2013 and the 2016 Paralympics following the Olympic Games.

In the late 1990s, Brazil spearheaded a concerted effort to bring these global events to South America. The country conducted planning for what would ultimately be two failed bids to host the 2004 and 2012 Olympic Games. As a rising global power both economically and politically, Brazil continues to pursue these events to further raise its international profile and signal its increased readiness to participate in the global marketplace. Besides serving as a way to flex its political and economic muscle, Brazil’s “mega-event focused” strategy is also a decisive effort to bring in much needed development—particularly in the area of transportation.

Billions of dollars are being invested in metro extensions, rapid transit, and other transportation projects, notably the bullet train between Brazils two most heavily populated cities—Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. And while these costly projects have been talked about for years, mega sporting events are serving as the impetus to unite the funding and political will necessary to make real progress. Metrô Rio CEO José Gustavo de Souza Costa said that “the Olympics and World Cup are essentially catalysts for necessary investments” and confirms that transportation projects “will all be ready for 2014 [and] 2016”.  These projects include a $1 billion expansion of the current metro system as well as investments in an interconnecting rapid transit system with a price tag of $1.2 million. Transportation investments such as these are expected to increase capacity and result in quicker travel times and better traffic flow.

With Brazil serving as host to so many significant mega sporting events, the country’s leadership has also taken into consideration the need for streamlining preparation efforts for back-to-back events. These considerations have lead to strategic development decisions to build dual-purpose facilities or to remodel existing facilities to meet the needs of the Games. For example, Rio’s Maracanã Stadium is being remodeled for the World Cup and is expected to also host the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games.  These investments also reflect the public sector’s efforts to avoid post-Games “white elephants”, experienced by many other host Olympic cities, by ensuring public monies go towards projects that will provide long-lasting benefits to residents.

Brazil’s mega-event movement has been championed at all levels of government. Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva led the bid for the 2016 Games and President Dilma Rousseff has wielded her influence to give infrastructure development precedence—tying this priority to the two fast-approaching mega-events. This past August, President Rousseff announced a sizeable investment package to repair the nation’s aging roads and railways worth $66 billion stating, “Brazil will finally have an infrastructure that’s compatible with its size”.

Would this level of investment in transportation infrastructure exist in the absence of these mega-events? It is hard to say given the multitude of factors playing into Brazil’s growth and development. Still, the beauty of the Olympic bid process is its catalyzing powers to bring together the people and resources needed for infrastructure investments. Outside of the pressure, timetables, and budget constraints of actually hosting the Olympics, cities stand to receive benefits from the bidding process that are often lost in the spectacle of the Games. What we can be certain of is that Brazil has learned a lot about uniting support and resources, as well as legacy projects, both from its two previous failed bids and from its experience hosting several global sporting events.

Still, skepticism of the country’s ability to safely and responsibly meet deadlines for the World Cup and Olympics is widespread. Only time will tell if Rio and other Brazilian cities will weather both the Olympics and the World Cup with sustainable infrastructure that improves the daily lives of city residents.

At BID, we will track whether this Carnival-crazed country’s cultural allure, government investments and push for these events, and economic power will translate into success with the Olympics and World Cup…particularly in the arena of transportation development.