Despite this being Turkey’s fourth bid to host the Uefa European Championships it has never hosted a major soccer tournament. The country now awaits the final decision from European soccer’s governing body on 27th September, when the choice will be made to either award them Euro 2024 or send the it to 2006 Fifa World Cup hosts Germany.
Turkey’s past bids have all ended in heartbreak; the country sought to stage Euro 2008 with Greece, and to host the 2012 and 2016 tournaments, which went to Poland with Ukraine and France respectively, the latter of which Turkey lost by a single vote.
The country had also been in contention for the 2020 tournament, which is due to be held in 13 cities across the continent. However, in April 2014, the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) withdrew its bid for Euro 2020 in order to concentrate its efforts on landing the 2024 edition of the tournament, while Istanbul also lost out in its bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games.
Now, having submitted its final bid book alongside Germany for Euro 2024, Turkey is on the charm offensive. Speaking to international media in London on Monday, Servet Yardimci, the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) first vice-president (right) discusses the country’s preparations for the international soccer tournament, and what it has to offer that Germany does not.
Servet Yardimci, the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) first vice-president, discusses the bid with the UK media (PA Images)
Located between Europe and Asia, Turkey has positioned itself as a gateway to both the Middle East and Africa. According to the bid team, the country’s geographical location makes it uniquely placed to drive growth, more than other European nation.
“This would mean the tournament would be regarded as a global Europe 2024, rather than just the Euros 2024,” Yardimci explains. “It has more of a global reach and is more inclusive. Our national aircraft carrier, Turkish Airlines, can reach one billion people around 53 countries, flying to 120 destinations.”
Stadia and infrastructure
The TFF bid involves ten stadia across nine cities: the home of Istanbul-based giants Galatasaray and the city's Ataturk Olympic Stadium, as well as venues in Konya, Bursa, Trabzon, Gaziantep, Eskişehir, Kocaeli, Ankara and Antalya.
Yadmici says that the Olympic Stadium would host the opening game and final of Euro 2024— a venue that is set to undergo major redevelopments, believed to be costing around €250 million (US$300 million).
“Turkey so far has already built and delivered eight and a half of the planned ten stadia that we have allocated for Euro 2024,” says Yardimci. “They are in use already. The ninth stadium is Ankara Stadium, which will start to be constructed next week after the end of the football season.
“In our dossier, in 2010, when we handed it in to Uefa, we have made all our commitments and promises in it, that we would have delivered for 2016. Now eight years more have passed and we have exceeded our commitments. Ten stadia will be used, but the Turkish government has built and delivered around 30 stadia.
“This proves the Turkish government’s support in terms of infrastructure development and stadia investment has been strong. Although we lost Euro 2016, we have not given up and we continue our investment programme.”
The country is also planning to construct a third airport in Istanbul, which it says will be the ‘biggest in Europe and the world’. Building is due to get underway this year, and Yardimci says this means the country will be ever more accessible to numerous countries.
Yardimci points to the fact the bid’s the stadia are already operational as a means of dismissing the possibility of post-tournament ‘white elephants’, saying: “we are using it and we will continue using it.”
The country also has a project to plant ten million sapling trees in the name of every ticket holder, and will make free public transport available for game attendees too. Designated walking and cycling lines, meanwhile, will link to every stadium and promote green transport options, while extending the eticketing system already in use in the Süper Lig to cut down on paper usage.
The TFF claim Turkey would offer more commercial opportunities for Uefa to explore but fail to back up that claim with any specific commercial projections in the bid. The governing body has told Uefa that Euro 2024 is “a priority for the Turkish government,” with all legal and financial guarantees provided, and sports news outlet Sportcal reports there was no official budget for hosting the tournament because “the government has said it will underwrite everything.”
“There will be more sponsor interest from [the Middle East and Africa] and more supporter and more opportunities,” Yardmici says. “It is a new territory for Uefa. Each tournament hosted does generate more revenues than the previous one, but we think because of our unique position, we will bring more than expected commercially.”
The management of security and the risk of potential terrorist attacks surrounding Turkey’s bid for Euro 2024 have been raised as issues, with one of the ten stadia listed in the TFF bid book being Gaziantep. The city is only around 73 miles north of the Syrian city of Aleppo, which has been at the heart of the ongoing civil war in the country, while the British Foreign Office advises against ‘all but essential travel’ to the area.
In 2016, Turkey underwent a coup d’etat during which armed forces unsuccessfully tried to seize control of several key places in cities including capital Ankara and Instanbul. In the aftermath, events including the International Basketball Federation Under-18 European Championship were cancelled.
However, Yadimci says that security will not be an issue for Euro 2024: “Turkey is a safe country. And safety is the Turkish government’s top priority. Yes, it is near the Syrian border, but there is no problem in the city.
“Last Thursday night, we played the Turkish cup final in the centre of the south-east of Turkey [in the city of Diyarbakir, which is also close to the Syrian border].There’s a new stadium there, which is 30,000 in capacity, and we played the cup final there to show the unity and togetherness of Turkey. We don’t think this is an issue at all.”
Human rights fears
In May 2017, Uefa announced that countries bidding for future editions of the European Championship will have to adhere to human rights and anti-corruption criteria, marking the first time human rights articles have been included in Uefa’s bidding process.
The criteria are based on the United Nations’ conventions and were developed in cooperation with the Sports and Rights Alliance, and will mean that Turkey will face high levels of scrutiny in the coming months ahead of Uefa’s final bidding decision.
In a worrying development for the Turkish bid, the UN human rights office earlier this year published a report describing ‘serious human rights violations committed between July 2015 and December 2016 in south-east Turkey’, while international non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch says that the new presidential system, which consolidates Recep Erdoğan’s hold on power, is a ‘setback for human rights and the rule of law’.
Yadimci, however, insists that Turkey’s human rights record will not impact its bid: “Turkey is a signatory to the human rights treaties and so Turkey does respect human rights and it does comply with what we have signed and will continue to comply. The other issues will not be in the way for us to organise 2024. We don’t think these will be problems.
“The Turkish political system is very consistent: Turkey has, in eight years, and since 2010, grown and developed as much as it would have in 80 years. It is a strong, developing country. It is the sixth strongest economy in Europe out of which Turkey is the only one which has never hosted this tournament.”
Turkey squad before kick-off in an the international friendly match at the Antalya Stadium
Turkey vs Germany
Yardimci emphasises that one of Turkey’s stand-outs is the level of preparation that has already gone into its stadia and infrastructure. “Turkey is prepared today. If it was given to us to organise the tournament today, we are ready to host it now. Turkish stadia are delivered and in use and will continue to be in use because Turkey is a great footballing country.” Although, Germany could arguably trot out the very same line.
The TFF vice-president is not concerned about the absence of Michel Platini – who backed the Turkish bid for Euro 2020. Platini, who was Uefa president in 2013 when Turkey submitted its Olympic bid, had previously stated the country would be his preferred choice to land the semi-finals and final of the competition. In February 2012, Uefa was forced to dismiss reports that Platini had promised Turkey it would stage Euro 2020.
“Michel Platini did favour Turkey after we lost 2016,” says Yardmici. “But that was not delivered. We made it very clear to Uefa that Turkey is ready and prepared to do the whole tournament. Turkey is also a powerful and strong nation and could maybe deliver better than Germany. Two strong and capable and powerful nations are bidding so it will be interesting and exciting to see the result.
“We hope there will be no political influence— we believe football should be separate from politics.”