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World Expo 2020: Dubai faces stiff competition from Izmir

Turkish city has been endorsed by the WHO; UAE bid backed by the UK

  • Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum
    Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum at the entrance to the Louvre Museum in Paris. The Vice-President and otImage Credit: WAM
  • Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum
    The UAE's proposed World Expo 2020 locationImage Credit: Gulf News
Gulf News

Paris: Hectic diplomatic parleys are going on behind the scenes as all the four bidding countries are doing their best to garner support, in the form of votes. All participants remain tight-lipped on the support they have secured.

“We are talking to partners and I am optimistic of winning the rights to host Expo 2020. However, it’s too early to say,” Shaikh Ahmad Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, Chairman and Chief Executive of Emirates Airline and Group, told Gulf News, when asked to comment on Dubai’s chances of winning the bid.

“All other candidates are also strong and their governments are also supporting the bids very strongly. We will wait till the end to see the results,” he said.

Dubai faces competition from Sao Paulo of Brazil, Izmir of Turkey and the Russian city of Yekaterinburg following the disqualification of Ayutthaya of Thailand.

Reem Ebrahim Al Hashemi, UAE Minister of State and Managing Director of the Higher Committee for the Expo 2020 bid, said the country would create a lasting impression after hosting the global event. She stressed on the safety and stability of the UAE.

“The story of the UAE is that of partnerships that has created a country and a city. Now we want to take this partnership to a new level,” she said.

Princess Haya Bint Hussain, Wife of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, stressed on unity and diversity. “Although our faiths might be different, we are all united in our destiny. This is what distinguishes Dubai and the UAE from the rest.

“We must seek new ways in success and achieve it with partnerships. We must find ways to create opportunities for sustainable development. That’s why we have joined the United Nations Sustainable Development Network to help create partnerships, opportunities and seek to ensure sustainable development.”

The UAE has already secured official support from the British Government, while Turkey has secured support from South Africa, reportedly in exchange of the earlier Turkish support for South Africa’s bid to host World Cup football in 2010.


The Turkish city of Izmir is a strong contender for the Expo 2020. It had also bid for Expo 2015 and narrowly lost to Milan, Italy.

“I do not have the official numbers on how many countries are supporting us, but we are confident of winning this one,” Egemen Bagis, Turkish Mnister for the European Union, told Gulf News.

Although Izmir has put up an impressive bid around ‘Health for all’ theme, recent political turmoil could become a nightmare if it continues. It has pledged to build a waterfront site for the Expo, 97 per cent of which will be dedicated to an eco-park once the Expo is over.

Designed by Iraqi-born architect Zaha Hadid, Izmir’s expo site is as appealing as its bid proposal. It wants health to be recognised as a human right.

It has also developed a mascot, Expoman, as part of the bid process, and has endorsement from the World Health Organisation (WHO). “Health is a unifying theme with a universal appeal that touches all of us,” Dr Margaret Chen, Director-General of WHO, said in a televised speech.

Bagis promised an “unforgettable Expo like no other”, coining the phrase from a TV commercial of Sony VAIO laptop.


The Russian city of Yekaterinburg, which is located on the border between Asia and Europe, is also optimistic of winning the bid.

Although there is no clearly demarcated border between Europe and Asia, officials of Yekaterinburg claim that part of the city lies in Asia, with the other part being in Europe. This gives the city a wider appeal of cultural diversity.

The Russian presentation had an astronaut speaking to the audience, showing the city of Yekaterinburg on the global map — at the crossroads between the East and the West.

Sao Paulo

Brazil’s Sao Paulo is hoping to secure the bid based on its economic strength. Its officials talked of how the World Expo has never been held in Latin America — which strengthens its appeal.

Although there wasn’t much of a spark in the Brazilian presentation, the country of the Samba dance has its own appeal. Brazil is one of the world’s top 10 economies.

Among the four cities, two belong to the Bric group — Brazil and Russia. However, the battle could narrow down to the remaining two countries — Turkey and the UAE — both in the Middle East.

Although Turkey is riding high on strong economic growth, Izmir is perhaps no match to Dubai when it comes to connectivity. One has to fly via Istanbul to reach Izmir, while Dubai is directly connected to 220 cities in the world across six continents.

By 2020, Dubai will serve 20 million tourists annually, double of Izmir’s target, which prompted Temel Kotil, Turkish Airline’s CEO, to promise increased flights to Izmir if it wins the bid. By 2020, Turkish Airlines will have a fleet of 277 aircraft, mostly serving its hubs Istanbul and Ankara, while Emirates will have more than 350 aircraft — all serving Dubai.

It will be interesting to see how competition shapes up in the next few months ahead of the vote. Till then, all four contestants will be on their toes.