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Turkish minister blames Gezi for possible loss of Olympics race

One of the government’s most opinionated figures, Turkey’s EU Minister Egemen Bağış again raised eyebrows recently while attending a wrestling event in Istanbul’s Sancaktepe when he accused the Gezi protesters for any future loss regarding the country’s race to host the Olympics.

Bağış’s remarks, which accused the protesters of “applying twice to drop Istanbul’s candidacy,” caused a stir hours later the minister voiced them at an annual wrestling tournament on Aug. 18, a branch of Turkish sports that has recently been riddled with doping claims.

“Those who caused a scene at Taksim’s Gezi Park applied twice to drop Istanbul’s candidacy, and requested Istanbul to be dropped off the candidates list. Thank God they couldn’t succeed. If Istanbul loses, it will be because of them,” Bağış said.

Bağış called hosting the Olympics Istanbul’s “only missing title,” saying the time has arrived for a Muslim country to take on the challenge, voicing optimism for the upcoming September decision.

“The fact that Istanbul hasn’t yet hosted the Olympics is not a deficiency on Istanbul’s behalf, but one on the Olympics’. It is time for the Olympics, which have never been hosted in a country with a Muslim majority, to be hosted in the city that spans two continents,” the minister said.

The minister further likened the government officials to the wrestlers of the event, saying they were “conducting politics without any doping substances, much like [the wrestlers] who are fighting without doping drugs.”

The country’s path to the Olympics has been a bumpy ride, with consecutive doping scandals breaking out back to back in the past few months, including the most recent one that hit wrestling, the traditional Turkish sport. Champion Ali Gürbüz and another 16 oil wrestlers who recently won in different categories of Turkey’s longest-running sports event, the Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling competition, have tested positive in doping tests. Kırkpınar is known as the most significant wrestling competition in the country, dating back to the Ottoman times.

Just in the early days of August, the Turkish Athletics Federation’s (TAF) Disciplinary Board banned 31 Turkish athletes including Olympic medalist Eşref Apak, from competitions for two years, a month after announcing they were tested positive for banned substances.

The world athletics’ governing body (IAAF) has previously called on the country to step up its efforts against doping, with IAAF President and International Olympic Committee member Lamine Diarck saying the country would not be have a strong chance for the games if it failed to “control its athletes.”

Gezi protests that were sparked in May also affected the candidacy process, drawing strong international attention to the ongoing incidents in the city, with a particular focus on excessive police force used on the protesters.

Bağış’s remarks came around the time a new outpouring of Gezi support that was chanted at an Istanbul derby football match between Beşiktaş and Trabzonspor, despite warnings from government benches to keep politics out of the football field. (Hürriyet Daily News)