Ekrem İmamoğlu claims Istanbul's hosting of the Global Esports Games will help its 2036 Olympic bid ©Getty Images

Istanbul's Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu has described the city's hosting of the Global Esports Games as "a step towards the Olympic Games", with the metropolis bidding for the 2036 edition.

İmamoğlu made a surprise visit to the Hilton Istanbul Bomonti, where the esports tournament is taking place, following his intention to bid for the Olympics last July.

"As Istanbul is a candidate to be the host of the 2036 Olympic Games, it is an important step for us to be welcoming an international event here as a step towards the Olympic Games," İmamoğlu said.

"Istanbul is a meeting point of the East and West, many civilizations, and many cultures.

"Having such an event here in Istanbul is very valuable in this regard."

Istanbul is staging the second iteration of the Global Esports Federation's flagship event which was praised by the Mayor.

The Turkish city has bid for each of the 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2020 editions of the Olympics, but has been unsuccessful on each attempt.

"It's a really important event and it's a great source of pride to us to be hosting the second Global Esports Games here in Istanbul because Istanbul has a population of 16 million, and it actually has the world's youngest population average.

"So, it's a really interesting event for us to be hosting, and I'm really glad to be hosting an event that young people are so interested in."

Just three days ago, İmamoğlu was sentenced to jail by a Turkish court and had a political ban imposed upon him.

He was given a two-year and seven-month sentence along with the ban, both of which must be confirmed by an appeals court, for insulting public officials in a speech he made after he won Istanbul's municipal election in 2019.

Ekrem İmamoğlu, right, was sentenced to jail earlier this week and was also handed a political ban ©Getty Images
Ekrem İmamoğlu, right, was sentenced to jail earlier this week and was also handed a political ban ©Getty Images

İmamoğlu is seen as a strong possible challenger for current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's position.

He has called on voters to respond in next year's elections which are due to take place in June while also saying that the verdict marked a "profound unlawfulness" that "proved that there is no justice in today's Turkey".

U.S. State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel stated that the body is "deeply troubled and disappointed" by the sentence.

Istanbul finished runner-up to Tokyo at the 125th International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session in Buenos Aires, losing in the final round of voting by 60 votes to 36, for the hosting rights of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

İmamoğlu has previously claimed that Istanbul already has the majority of the infrastructure needed and that the remaining facilities "can be comfortably completed within the city budget."

His tenure as Mayor expires in 2024 and as of yet it is unclear whether or not Erdoğan's Government supports Istanbul's bid for the Olympics.

Indonesia, Mexico, Britain, Egypt, Germany, India, Qatar and South Korea are also interested in hosting the 2036 Games.

Esports has long been touted as a potential new event at the Olympics as it is immensely popular with young people around the world, which is a market that the IOC is desperate to tap in to.

It has already featured in multi-sport events and will serve as a full medal discipline at next year's postponed Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games. 

French President Emmanuel Macron has also expressed his belief that the Paris 2024 Olympics and Paralympics could serve as "a historic opportunity" for the country to host major esports events.