Uefa should have awarded Euro 2024 to Turkey

Giving tournament to Germany reeks of fear and misses valuable chance for integration

Galatasaray supporters celebrate their title success in Istanbul in May. Photograph: Yasin Akgul/AFP/Getty Images

Galatasaray supporters celebrate their title success in Istanbul in May. Photograph: Yasin Akgul/AFP/Getty Images

 

Did Uefa bottle it by not choosing Turkey for Euros?

By spurning Turkey, Uefa representatives have squandered a major chance to reach new audiences and build bridges – the very goals it alleges to pursue.

Having lost the vote 12-4 with one abstention, Turkey was never really in the running. Its jailing of tens of thousands of suspected opponents and silencing of most independent media outlets following a failed coup in July 2016 likely proved enough to send FAI chief executive John Delaney and his fellow Uefa voting partners running.

While on paper Germany stood head and shoulders above Turkey in terms of ready-to-use stadiums, the outcome of Thursday’s vote reeks of fear. There was no hiding the bitterness when, speaking to reporters following the announcement, Turkey’s sports minister Mehmet Kasapoglu declared the result “saddening for Uefa and for Euro 2024”.

Awarding the competition to Turkey would have brought it closer to Europe across a host of socio-political sphere

Unlike Germany, Turkey had offered its stadiums to Uefa for free. A lack of airports quoted in Uefa’s evaluation report released last week was noted as a “risk”, even though Turkey has more airports than Germany. The report also raised concerns around a broader lack of infrastructure in Turkey. However, of the nine proposed host cities, five are linked together by high-speed trains that travel at up to 250km/h. Another, Bursa, is a charming two-hour ferry trip from Turkey’s biggest city, Istanbul. Antalya, on the Mediterranean Sea coast, boasts dozens of direct flights to Europe, Russia and the Middle East. That leaves Gaziantep in the southeast and Trabzon on the northern Black Sea coast. The recent rush of millions of Arab tourists seeking tranquillity in the Black Sea’s mountain plateaus has resulted in the development of a major tourist industry there centred on Trabzon.

Awarding the competition to Turkey would have brought it closer to Europe across a host of socio-political spheres and helped settle long-standing differences. Turkey and several European countries, particularly Germany, have been involved in political mudslinging for years. Had Turkey won the right to host Euro 2024 it would have forced both sides to seek common ground.

None of which is to say that handing the competition to Turkey would have come without major risks and potential public relations headaches for Uefa. In the days before and after Thursday’s announcement there’s been plenty of nastiness on show in Turkey’s oftentimes rabid pro-government media. On Wednesday, the Daily Sabah newspaper ran a story headlined: “Racism, corruption allegations tarnish Germany’s Euro bid.”

Atatürk Olympic stadium on the outskirts of Istanbul will live long in the hearts of Liverpool fans, but represents a malaise at the heart of football in Turkey

On Friday morning, the sports daily Fanatik voiced incredulity at how Uefa “gifted” Germany the competition despite “open opposition from its supporters” and the racism midfielder Mesut Özil, who is of Turkish heritage, allegedly suffered before quitting the German national team in July.

Syrian border

Then there’s the fact that Turkey shares a 900km border with Syria and a frontier with Iraq which may have swayed the Uefa chiefs, even though much of the border with Syria now lies behind a huge wall. Holding games in Gaziantep, an hour’s drive from the Syrian border, could have posed major security challenges given the currently large number of radical Islamists believed to live there.

Atatürk Olympic stadium on the outskirts of Istanbul will live long in the hearts of Liverpool fans, but represents a malaise at the heart of football in Turkey. The cavernous, isolated stadium offers one of the worst experiences of any major football venue in the country, and what does it say about Turkey’s master planning when, though it was constructed just 16 years ago, the Euro 2024 plan was to demolish it and build an entirely new facility? Istanbul itself offers a unique experience, but suffers from a dearth of English language speakers.

Fenerbahce supporters during a Europa League match against Benfica in 2013 in Istanbul. Photograph: Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images
Fenerbahce supporters during a Europa League match against Benfica in 2013 in Istanbul. Photograph: Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images

The relationship between the Turkish Football Federation and many supporters’ clubs has been poisonous for several years now, particularly since fans were forced to sign up to a system in 2014 that requires them to hand over personal identification records to attend games. A former member of a Fenerbahce supporters’ club that has since disbanded told me ahead of Thursday’s announcement that he hoped Turkey would lose the vote, and that he even supports the opposing team when the national side plays.

“TFF is the enemy,” he said. “There was a popular relief and cheer when Turkey missed (out on hosting) the Olympics to Japan. The same would go for Euro 2024.” The animosity many Turkish fans feel towards the Turkish Football Federation for its perceived corruption was embarrassingly evident during Turkey’s 3-0 defeat to Spain at Euro 2016, when Arda Turan and others were loudly booed by their own fans.

Perhaps the biggest losers are the fans themselves. Turkish football fanaticism needs no introduction

All that aside, the argument that Turkey’s poor human rights record amounted to a risk, as noted in Uefa’s evaluation report, by itself, carries little water. When Fifa named Russia as host of the 2018 World Cup eight years ago, it was jailing journalists and silencing political opponents with aplomb. In the years leading up to last summer’s tournament, Moscow was involved in a war in Syria, annexed Crimea and Ukrainian separatists it backed are believed to have downed a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet in July 2014. Qatar, for its part, is an autocratic state with no elections and severe restrictions on press activity. And while it was Fifa and not Uefa that granted Russia and Qatar the right to hold respective World Cups, Uefa proved it wasn’t shy of a risk when voting for Ukraine to co-host the 2012 tournament despite deep political instability there.

Perhaps the biggest losers are the fans themselves. Turkish football fanaticism needs no introduction, and the kind of experience European fans from 24 nations (possibly even Irish supporters) would have enjoyed had Turkey won Thursday’s vote would have been unlike anything seen at a European championship before.

For Turkey, it represents a fourth failed bid following similar setbacks in 2008, 2012 and 2016. It is now left to ponder yet another episode where it’s cast as the outsider in Europe.

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