Istanbul, Madrid trade blows as race becomes Messi

Buenos Aires: The battle for the right to host the 2020 Summer Olympics entered its` final stages today with the Istanbul bid saying in Buenos Aires that of the three candidates they would need to spend the least on `dedicated Olympic projects`.

Their claim will surprise many as one of their rivals Madrid`s strongest selling points was that the economic crisis in Spain would not affect their bid because their budget was a modest one 2.37 billion euros ($3.12 billion) as most of the venues and the infrastructure are already in place.

The Istanbul bid, which is also up against the third candidate Tokyo, may have hoped to take a bit of the wind out of the sails of Madrid, but the Spaniards had their own moment of triumph today when they secured the support of four-time world footballer of the year Lionel Messi.

The 26-year-old Argentinian`s support for Madrid may have come as something of a rude shock not only to supporters of his club Barcelona - bitter rivals of Real Madrid - but also to Istanbul as he promotes Turkish Airlines, one of the main sponsors of the Olympic bid.

Istanbul, though, will hope the revelation that their budget would be the lowest in terms of expenditure will strike a chord with IOC members.

Several of the candidates seeking to replace retiring IOC president Jacques Rogge on September 10 have made it clear they don`t want to see the Games getting bigger and more expensive and unaffordable for some cities to host.

"Istanbul will have the lowest expenditure on dedicated Olympic projects," said Istanbul 2020`s Director of Sport Alp Berker at their opening press conference, just five days away from when the International Olympic Committee members will vote on who hosts the Games.

"Three billion dollars worth are already completed and in the ground."

Hasan Arat, the dynamic leader of the bid, said the Marmaray Rail Tunnel - the deepest in the world - was a case in point of projects being completed.

"Our politicians promise and they deliver," he said.

"The Marmaray Tunnel has fulfilled dreams that endured for 150 years of the Silk Road traversing East and West. Now there is a link between Beijing and London which means a lot to the Turkish people."

Arat, a former professional basketball player turned successful businessman, said the vote on Saturday could be a game changer for the IOC should Istanbul win and bring the Games to a predominantly Muslim country for the first time.

"It would be a turning point for my country and also for the Olympic Movement," he said.

Madrid, third and second in the races to host the 2012 and 2016 Games respectively, were cock a hoop at Messi`s support.

"I think it is good for sport if Madrid is awarded the Games - not only for the city, but also for the top-level athletes in Spain," said Messi, who wore the Madrid 2020 T-shirt and raised a flag of the Spanish Bid.

"It is very important to host the Olympics in the country where I live. I was very lucky to participate in the Olympics for Argentina and it is an amazing experience for all athletes," added Messi, who arrived on Tuesday to prepare for a 2014 World Cup qualifier against Paraguay.

Tokyo, the only candidate city to have previously hosted the Games, in 1964, kept a lower profile with the Governor of Tokyo Naoki Inose saying they remained firmly on track.

"Our Bid is completely united, one `Team Japan` with Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe. The overwhelming support from the Japanese people has given us even greater determination to do our very best to win," he said.

"We are the safe pair of hands, one of the world`s safest cities and we have a substantial Games Hosting Fund of US$4.5 billion already in the bank."