The Road To Olympics

Every city has its characteristic products. In Erzurum they are jet stone, ‘cağ’ kebab and stuffed kadayif. Take your pick!

When describing the city, the 17th century Turkish traveler, Evliya Çelebi, puts the cold in first place. If winter  is the major feature of a city, then it should be also that city’s trademark. And the recent University Winter Games were an important step in that direction.

But we have to go back a little to understand Universiade 2011. In the past, kids used to play ice hockey with sticks they made themselves on a frozen pond at Havuzbaşı, one of Erzurum’s main squares. There were ice skaters too. Now there are rinks for each as well as Olympic facilities.  In addition to ski jump towers and ice skating, curling and ice hockey arenas, the city stadium is being readied for winter, as Konaklı prepares to become a winter ski resort alongside Palandöken.

What’s more, with their potential for winter cloud seeding, the skiing season at both Palandöken and Konaklı has a chance of being extended for two more months. Turkish and foreign hotel chains are already holding talks about new investments in the region. Can the Winter Games change the fate of a city? No. But they can be a key building stone in that city’s transformation. Close to 700 million liras was spent on transportation, organization and promotion from the start of preparations for the games to the finish, the biggest single sport investment in any Turkish city up to now.

Big budgets don’t necessarily spell success. But the Universiade, held from January 20 to February 6th this year, was hailed as a success by the FISU (International University Sports Federation). So much so that FISU President George Killian gave the games a ‘9+’. And let’s not forget that a ‘10’ has yet to be given anywhere.

Not only have Winter Games of this magnitude never been held in Turkey before, they are a far more complex proposition than, for example, the Summer Games held in Izmir, due to reasons of technical infrastructure and setup as well as weather conditions. Following the success at Erzurum, Turkey has now been given two more events. Two years before they are due to start, the 2013 Mediterranean Games have been taken away from a European Union member country and given to Mersin on Turkey’s south coast. Meanwhile the U20 International Football Championship is going to be held in the Black Sea town of Trabzon in 2013.

The investments being made in Erzurum have sparked interest in winter tourism and winter sports in several other cities as well in a development that could perhaps be dubbed ‘snow fire’. Among them, Ağrı, Van, Artvin, Kastamonu and Erzurum and several other provinces have already been targeted, and investments are under way in Muş, Bitlis, and Hakkâri. As a measure of the enthusiasm, two thousand people skied on the day the ski facilities opened at Van, and there are demands for ski centers are coming from Şanlıurfa and Muğla as well.

Turkey has a hundred mountains 3,000 meters in elevation, and they are spread out over the entire country. Up to now, even our own national athletes trained at camps abroad. Soon talented youth in every region are going to be able to strut their stuff in winter as well as summer sports.
Events of this nature are seen as a preliminary to the Olympics or the World Football Championship being given to Turkey. And Faruk Nafiz Özak, the country’s minister of state for sport, says their target now is a high-level olympiad.

“The number of tourists who come to Erzurum is 40,000 a year. This is very low and we have to make efforts to boost it. We need to increase bed capacity in the region. Tourism investment in the region has to be encouraged through legal incentives. We hosted tourism investors in Erzurum on February 5th while the games were under way. We held very fruitful meetings with close to a hundred investors at which our Health Minister and Culture and Tourism Minister were also present. We showed those investors our facilities. We showed them the investment opportunities in the region. We are continuing those efforts. Our purpose is to make this region a world-recognized winter tourism center. The notion that when it snows the Turks sit back and watch is old hat now. From now on snow is going to bring profit and be a means of boosting prosperity in the region.”