The Uefa will decide today whether to award the 2024 European Football Championship to Germany or Turkey. The prospects for the country are bleak – and for President Erdogan it’s about more than sport.
Bagi’s Erten is torn back and forth. He is a football fan. If Turkey were to host the 2024 European Football Championship, he says, a childhood dream would come true for him. Erten is also a journalist, however. He has been reporting from Turkey for Eurosport for many years. “As a journalist, I wonder what message would come from a European Championship in Turkey,” he says.
The European Football Association (Uefa) will decide on Thursday in Nyon (from 2.45 pm) whether Germany or Turkey will be awarded the 2024 European Football Championship. Just on the day Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrives for his state visit to Germany. In the country that is considered the favourite for the event. The Uefa has just classified the application of the German Football Association (DFB) as “creative” and “very professional”. Turkey did everything in its power to convince the UEFA Executive Committee to change its mind by 27 September.
Three applications, three failures
For Turkey, it’s about more than sport. The country has already tried three unsuccessful tournaments. A further refusal would be perceived as a disgrace by many Turks. President Erdogan, like other autocrats before him, hopes that the event will boost his popularity.
There are also good reasons for the Uefa to award the EM to Turkey: The Turks are as crazy about football as hardly any other nation. New stadiums have been built all over the country in recent years. The Turkish Football Federation (TFF) is far in favour of the Uefa on economic issues. TTF leader Yildirim Demirören promises “unprecedented support”.
The fact that the Uefa nevertheless sees Germany in the lead in its latest evaluation report is mainly due to the political and economic upheavals in Turkey. President Erdogan has transformed his country into an autocracy in recent years. Thousands of opposition members are imprisoned, the media have been brought into line, and the courts have been deprived of their power. In its report, the Uefa criticises the “lack of an action plan on human rights” in Turkey.
In addition, Turkey is in the midst of a severe economic crisis. The lira has lost almost half its value against the dollar since the beginning of the year. Inflation has not been as high as it has been since 2003. The government has announced that it will stop a number of public construction projects for the time being. Several football clubs are on the verge of bankruptcy because they can no longer pay the dollar salaries of their stars.
In Turkey, many people are now following their association’s bid with mixed feelings: They are longing for the European Championship, but are already complaining about the costs associated with this major event. “I doubt that Turkey would currently be able to cope with such a major event,” says Volkan Agir, football columnist for the newspaper Gazete Duvar.
TFF leader Demirören does not want to accept these objections. He argues that it is Turkey’s fourth attempt to host the European Championship. Demirören is closely associated with President Erdogan. His family has just bought the Turkish daily “Hürriyet”. “Our president is showing his strong will to facilitate Turkey’s application for the European Championship and supports our candidacy across the board,” says a glossy magazine that the association has sent to international journalists.
A question of democracy
Erdogan himself played football semi-professionally in his youth. He still likes to demonstrate his closeness to football players. His photo shoot with the German national players Mesut Özil and Ilkay Gündogan had caused a sensation and discussion in Germany for months.
The European Championship would be an opportunity for the Turkish president to distract attention from the economic crisis. Turkish opposition politicians, however, are urging the Uefa not to host the tournament in Turkey for this very reason. “Major sporting events should not be awarded to states in which there is no democracy and no justice,” says Ahmet Sik, a member of parliament from the left-wing pro-Kurdish party HDP. “The Erdogan regime would be legitimized by the EM from the international community.” Take a look at the Betfair Bonus to know about their promotions.