Istanbul (AFP) – Turkey boasts gleaming new stadiums, one of the most impassioned football fan bases anywhere and has never before hosted one of the world’s greatest sporting events.
For the Turkish leadership, after the bitter blows of seeing Istanbul miss out to Tokyo for the right to host the 2020 Olympics and repeatedly missing out on the European Championship, Turkey is the ideal candidate for Euro 2024.
But, as noted in the evaluation report by UEFA, Turkey’s attempt to beat Germany’s bid is not helped by shortfalls in transport and hotels, an economy that is going through a troubled period and questions over human rights.
AFP looks at the advantages and disadvantages of Turkey’s bid:
– Stadiums –
In an infrastructure drive spearheaded by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey has seen a spree of stadium-building across the country, with new grounds popping up outside Istanbul from Konya to Trabzon.
Consequently, out of 10 proposed host stadiums, seven are ready now to host Euro matches. The stadium in Antalya requires renovation while only those in Ankara and, crucially, the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul which would host the final, need to be built from scratch.
John McManus, author of the recent book “Welcome to Hell? In Search of the Real Turkish Football”, said that the stadiums built “could host tournament matches tomorrow”, having been constructed “specifically to UEFA guidelines”.
– Symbolism –
Awarding the tournament to Turkey would carry huge symbolism given it would be by far the biggest sporting event ever to be hosted by the majority-Muslim nation.
Turkey, which has unsuccessfully sought to join the European Union for over half a century, repeatedly accuses Europe of showing Islamophobia. But hosting the tournament would give Turkey one of its best ever shop windows, just a year after the 2023 100th anniversary of the founding of the modern state by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
– Passion –
Turkey is, as UEFA’s evaluation report noted, a “passionate footballing nation”. Everyone supports a football side, an affiliation that is usually passed down through generations.
Hosting the Euro in Turkey would help outsiders experience this at first hand. After several years of underperforming, there are signs of improvement in the national side, with a new generation of players emerging, some of whom were born to the diaspora outside Turkey.
– Transport –
One of the biggest concerns in UEFA’s evaluation report was on transport. While domestic air travel is extremely well developed in Turkey and roads have improved greatly, train infrastructure has long lagged behind elsewhere in Europe.
Erdogan’s government is seeking to change this with major projects and, according to UEFA, 17 billion euros ($20 billion) is planned for national-level ground transport infrastructure.
But it noted the “scale of works to be undertaken in the given time frame constitutes a risk” and also sounded alarm over accommodation especially outside of Istanbul, saying “limited hotel capacity in many cities is a matter of concern.”
– Politics –
Erdogan is a polarising figure in and outside Turkey and rights groups could sound alarm over the granting of a major tournament amid a crackdown that has seen dozens of journalists arrested.
UEFA’s report also said that the “lack of an action plan in the area of human rights is a matter of concern”. Yet the recent World Cup in Russia also showed that the focus on politics can drop once the matches finally get underway.
Security will also loom large after a string of attacks in 2015 and 2016, while host city Gaziantep lies just north of conflict-torn Syria.
– Economy –
With bad timing for the Turkish bid, the country was in August hit by a crash in value of the lira, raising questions over the health of the economy which many analysts believe had overheated.
This led to concerns over the strength of the banking system and UEFA’s report said the recent economic developments “may put planned public investments under pressure”.
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