By Julian Linden
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Istanbul made an impassioned plea to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Saturday to award the 2020 Games to Turkey, saying it would help bring peace to the troubled region.
The IOC has never awarded the Olympics to a predominately Muslim country but Istanbul's bid team, which included Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, urged the IOC members to break with tradition and vote for Istanbul.
"We live at a time when our region and the world crave for peace and at this critical moment we would like to send a strong message of peace to the whole world," Erdogan told the IOC.
Turkey is competing against Madrid and Tokyo for the right to host the Games. Each city was presenting their bids on Saturday before the IOC members vote later in the day.
Erdogan flew 16 hours through the night to get to Buenos Aires so he could personally address the IOC after spending the past few days at the G20 Summit in Russia, discussing the Syrian crisis with other world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama.
He did not specifically mention Syria, or any other troubled countries neighboring Turkey or the Taksim Square riots earlier this year in his presentation to the IOC.
But he stressed that awarding the Games to Istanbul could be a catalyst for change in the Middle East.
"If the Olympic Games are hosted in Turkey, where the majority of the population is Muslim, it will send a message to our whole region, which so needs peace."
Just as they had with the previous bids, Istanbul leaned heavily on its unique position in the world, straddling two continents, Europe and Asia.
The bid team based its 45-minute presentation to the IOC on the theme of bridging, not just geographically, but also socially, culturally and religiously, saying it was an ideal that fitted the IOC's own ideals.
"We would like to unite the continents in Istanbul in just the same way as the Olympic rings brings us together in unity and solidarity," the presentation said.
The bid team highlighted the country's surging economy and the government's commitment to the Games and pledged a crackdown on doping after a recent increase in positive tests by Turkish athletes.
(Reporting by Julian Linden; Editing by John Mehaffey)