The bloody Syrian civil war cost Istanbul votes over Tokyo to host the world's biggest sporting event in 2020, two influential International Olympic Committee (IOC) members said.
Istanbul – who had been trying to bring the Olympic Games for the first time to a predominantly Muslim country – reached the final round of voting for the first time after four previous failed attempts.
However, having edged out Madrid in a run-off vote after they both tied in the first round behind Tokyo, they lost heavily in the second round garnering just 36 IOC members votes to the 60 received by Tokyo.
There had been concerns that Istanbul could suffer from the fallout over the Syrian conflict, which has seen over 500,000 refugees cross over into Turkish territory, although several members denied it would.
Recep Tayip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, has also been one of the most bullish in demanding that bombing raids be carried out against the Syrian regime after they allegedly used chemical weapons against their own citizens.
Erdogan, who also harmed the bid in IOC members' eyes after his security forces used a heavy hand against anti-government protestors in June, was present for the final presentation in Buenos Aires and said sport and peace were inextricably linked.
Longtime IOC member Prince Albert of Monaco said the unstable situation in the region harmed Istanbul's cause.
"The geopolitical situation certainly played a role," he told Agence France-Presse.
"IOC members prefer surefire bets... Istanbul like the others was a really good candidacy.
"However, Tokyo offered a safe pair of hands. There is no problem with financing the Games, neither for the construction nor the organisation."
Thomas Bach, the IOC vice-president, favoured to succeed Jacques Rogge when he steps down as IOC president on Tuesday, agreed that the instability hurt Istanbul's chances.
"There you have one candidature addressing more the sense of tradition and stability and another candidature addresses the longing for new shores," said the 59-year-old German lawyer.
"This we have seen in the past also with different bids and this time the IOC members – in a fragile world – have decided in favour of tradition and stability."
Bach, an Olympic gold medalist in the team foil fencing event at the 1976 Games, said that he and his colleagues had to take a long term view of how the world would look in 2020.
"We live in a world in which it is difficult to predict how it will look like in three months from now," he said.
"The members had to take the very difficult decision on how the world will look like in seven years from now."
Hasan Arat, the tireless and dynamic president of the Istanbul bid, said he and his team were extremely disappointed but it had been a "fantastic learning experience" and he took great pleasure out of another consequence of the campaign.
"We may not have won the Games, but we united the nation. And for that, we can always be proud," he said.
Doping scandals also a reason?
Doping scandals may have also proved costly to both Madrid's and Istanbul's hopes of hosting the Olympics.
Adam Pengilly, Britain's IOC member, quizzed officials from both bidding cities about doping issues in Spain and Turkey during the final presentations.
IOC president Jacques Rogge said afterwards: "It is clear that the IOC members pay a lot of attention to the situation in the fight against doping.
"However it's very difficult to assess if it has played a major role in the voting itself."
Pengilly, a former skeleton racer, raised questions about the recent doping scandal that has seen more than 30 Turkish athletes test positive, and over Operation Puerto in Spain where a court has ordered that dozens of possibly suspect blood bags belonging to sports stars be destroyed rather than be tested.
Rogge did not vote himself but said that Tokyo would be a "safe pair of hands" and added: "As a surgeon, that's something that appeals."
Tokyo used London 2012 formula
Meanwhile, Tokyo's victorious Olympic bid chiefs promised to try to emulate the passion of the London 2012 Games when they become hosts in seven years' time.
Tsunekazu Takeda, the former Olympic showjumper who is now head of the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC), said: "London was a fantastic Games, putting the athletes first, the facilities were wonderful and the volunteers were so eager to have a superb Games.
"The people of the UK were all fully supporting the London Games and we felt their passion for the Olympic Games and that's something we would like to replicate in Tokyo in 2020."
Madrid delegation disappointed
The Madrid delegation were left reeling by the shock of their early elimination and defended their bid presentation as "the best" of the candidate cities.
There was a deathly hush in the bar where officials gathered to await the result of the IOC's head-to-head vote that eliminated the Spanish capital following a first-round tie with Istanbul.
Mariano Rajoy, the prime minister, under fire for a severe recession in Spain and 25 per cent unemployment, stopped short of pledging another Olympic bid after three successive failures, but said the government would "offer even more support if necessary to Spanish sport".
"Our country will carry on because it has shown a capacity to overcome difficult odds," he told a news conference.
"Now what we can do is continue to look ahead because Spain is a top level sports power and there are many sports in which we have triumphed.
"I think Madrid is a city that was ready. A great effort was made but in life you win sometimes and lose others."
Prince Felipe, whose impressive speech to close Madrid's presentation had boosted the delegation's confidence, said: "The king and queen shared in our initial hopes and sadness at the result.
"I'm grateful for the magnificent job Madrid did.
"With a significant proportion of the sporting infrastructure already built and in place, there is, still, a huge positive impact to be acknowledged," said Felipe, the bid's honorary president.
"Our efforts over the past 12 years will not be wasted, in that the people and youth of Madrid will still continue to benefit and enjoy an Olympic legacy from established venues to transport systems, so whilst the race for 2020 is lost, the future of sport in Spain will continue positively."
Members of the large Spanish contingent were in tears when they emerged from the bar onto the streets of the redeveloped port area of the Argentine capital on a grey, rainy afternoon.
"We believe the result bears no relation to the way [our presentation] was made. A decision like that is based on other criteria," Jose Ignacio Wert, Spain's education minister, told reporters.
"Everyone who attended the presentations of the three rival cities today can be in no doubt Madrid's was the best."
Madrid had been confident of success after narrowly missing out on the 2012 and 2016 Games.
Fencer Jose Luis Pirri echoed Wert's comments and suggested tactical voting had eliminated the Spanish capital.
"We expected to be in the final with Tokyo but it's obvious they didn't want us in the final because Madrid would have been very strong," said Pirri.
"It's a strange decision. Madrid has deserved to hold the Games for a long time and on top of that we are out in the first round, it's quite absurd."
NBA basketball player and Olympic silver medal winner Pau Gasol, a figurehead of the bid, could not hide his disappointment.
"There are factors we don't control, that only [the IOC members] know about. It's a shame because we were confident and had a good feeling," Gasol said.
"I don't think our work has been duly recognised in this instance."
Enrique Cerezo, president of top soccer club Atletico Madrid, said: "I think it's unfair Madrid should have been eliminated at the first turn. It looks to me like the system is very badly designed."
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