Istanbul's economic potential and scale, the keys to selecting the European Games. EOC

Istanbul took the first step towards becoming the host of the fourth European Games last Thursday, likely to be held at the end of June 2027. The visibility of this metropolis and the potential for economic development, among other factors, were key in reaching this agreement.

Following a meeting in Rome, it was decided to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality and the Turkish Olympic Committee. In other words, an agreement that lays the groundwork for hosting the Games, subject to ratification by the Assembly early next month.

"Today we take the first step towards the fourth edition of the European Games in Istanbul," declared Mr Spyros Capralos, President of the European Olympic Committees (EOC), at the press conference announcing the agreement.

Though what is behind this announcement? Why should a country with only five cities in Europe (two of which share a border with Asia) and almost all of its territory and 85% of its population in Asia (apart from its capital) host the European Games?

"We must not forget that Europe is the heart of world sport and we play an important role as one of the leaders of our continent," Capralos told the conference. Europe it may be, but Turkey's geographical location, with over 97% of its landmass on another continent, might suggest otherwise.

So what led to this decision in favour of other European cities? For one thing, as Capralos himself acknowledged at the conference attended by Inside The Games, there is the factor of time. Three years is a very good timeframe for development, something that wasn't guaranteed in other locations. On the other hand, there's the existing infrastructure in Istanbul and its tourism capabilities, which are essential for an event of this scale.

Spyros Capralos and Mr. Ekrem İmamoğlu signed the Memorandum of Understanding. EOC
Spyros Capralos and Mr. Ekrem İmamoğlu signed the Memorandum of Understanding. EOC

"I think what's very positive about this project is that before, we were looking for a host even two years before the Games, and now we have an agreement for three years before the Games. So I think this is very good, it shows the success of the Games," said Capralos.

In other words, foresight and solutions trump the city's location. Turkey's European territory, which accounts for less than 3%, is perhaps insignificant compared to other features of this megalopolis of more than 15 million people (counting both sides of the Bosphorus, which separates Europe from Asia).

The city of Istanbul alone, with a population of 15 million, exceeds the population of 131 countries worldwide, including medium-sized European countries such as Belgium (11.5 million), Greece (11.1 million), Austria (8.8 million), Switzerland (8.5 million) and Bulgaria (7 million).

"Istanbul is an important city that bridges two different continents. It is a city with a proven track record in organising sporting events. Everyone will see how modern Istanbul can be, despite its rich culture and history. And I believe this will generate more interest and effort, because we must not forget that Istanbul has tried to host the Olympic Games many times," said Capralos.

It's no coincidence that the President of the EOC mentions the appeal of history, of a culture that blends the ancient and the modern, and that bridges two continents. The aim is to generate interest, primarily in Europe, but any interest from neighbouring regions is welcome.

The Memorandum of Understanding is to be ratified by the Assembly in June. EOC
The Memorandum of Understanding is to be ratified by the Assembly in June. EOC

Public interest translates into sponsor interest and media coverage, potentially leading to exponential revenue growth and consolidation of the European Games. Not a bad strategy under the circumstances.

"We have made steady progress. It started as a little baby that we didn't know where it was going. But now it's becoming a more mature person, which means that the Games, after the great success we had in Poland, were a great success, and I'm also referring to the financial side, because that was demonstrated by the Deloitte report we had after the Games, which showed that the Games would be profitable."

With such an encouraging outlook, it's time to grow, as Capralos said, and Istanbul can offer much more growth than a small European city with little recognition. The hosts also know that they will not only be used for political propaganda and national branding (as is often the case with such major events), but could also benefit, at least in terms of tourism and brand building, as Greece did after Athens 2004.

In short, it's a win-win strategy. "This summer's Olympic Games marked the beginning of an exciting moment for you, followed by the Winter Olympic Games in Milan in 14 months' time. The European Olympic family must seize this opportunity," says Capralos, who knows that the title may surprise some Europeans, or at least raise some eyebrows. 

This photograph shows a general view of the opening ceremony of the European Games in Krakow on June 2023. GETTY IMAGES
This photograph shows a general view of the opening ceremony of the European Games in Krakow on June 2023. GETTY IMAGES

That is why he is using the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics and the Milan-Cortina Winter Olympics, which will be held in two important places in traditional Europe, to link them to these European Games, which will be held in a predominantly Asian country. The possibility of enhancing the Games by taking advantage of Istanbul cannot be overlooked.

In fact, he was asked about it during the press conference and didn't hesitate to answer. "Entering a big market like Turkey and Istanbul offers many opportunities in terms of business, sponsorship and other commercial activities. Therefore, I believe that this will greatly help the finances of the Games, but we will also gain much more visibility from our side," concluded the Greek, who has been at the helm of European Olympism since 10 June 2021.