Officials, media and football fans in Turkey accused the top European football body of discrimination after rejecting Ankara’s bid to host the European Championships in 2024, handing the tournament to Germany instead.
Germany won in a 12-4 vote September 27 over Turkey in the decision by the leadership of the European football association, UEFA. The vote was a blow to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s efforts to boost Turkey’s standing since the massive crackdown on dissent in which 150,000 people were detained following a coup attempt in 2016.
Turkish Sports Minister Mehmet Muharrem Kasapoglu defiantly said UEFA and European football were the real losers because they would miss the experience of having a tournament in Turkey. “There is nothing we have lost as a country,” he said. A win would have made Turkey the host of the first European football championship in a Muslim country.
UEFA officials had “become hostages of their prejudices” and had “practised discrimination,” said Bekir Bozdag, a former deputy prime minister. The pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper said UEFA had said “Yes to racism,” in a reference to a controversy surrounding Mesut Ozil, a German player of Turkish descent who resigned from the national team after the recent World Cup and accused German football authorities of racism.
Volkan Agir, a Turkish sports journalist in Germany, dismissed accusations of Islamophobia and racism and said Turkey lost because Germany had put in the better bid. “Germany’s infrastructure is ready 100% but Turkey’s readiness is just 60%,” Agir said via e-mail. That Turkish commentators concentrated on Ozil’s case was because “there is nothing else to criticise in Germany’s presentation and candidacy,” he said.
The financial crisis in Turkey was another reason UEFA had doubts, Agir added. Turkey’s human rights record, “which goes from bad to worse every day,” could be counted as a third factor, he said.
Opposition figures in Turkey warned against awarding the tournament to a country ruled by an increasingly authoritarian government. Basic rights were being violated in Turkey, opposition lawmaker Ahmet Sik told WDR, a German radio station, before the decision. Giving Turkey the nod anyway would be “tantamount to an international acceptance of a dictatorial regime,” Sik said.
Turkey put in bids for the European football championships in 2008, 2012 and 2016 but was rejected each time. Turkish applications to host the Olympic Games have also gone nowhere.
In the most recent application, Turkey proposed to use ten stadiums in cities from Istanbul in the west of the country to Gaziantep near the Syrian border in the south-east. Turkey’s vision for the tournament “brings people together by promoting an intercultural dialogue,” UEFA said in a report published less than a week before the decision.
The report, however, highlighted several drawbacks in the Turkish bid compared with Germany’s. The country lacked adequate rail and road links between the cities hosting Euro 2024 games and needed investments of $19.7 billion for ground transport, of which $5.3 billion was in place.
The report said most cities featured in the Turkish bid lacked an adequate number of hotel rooms. Some Turkish laws, which ban advertisement of alcohol, could be a problem, the report added. “The restriction on alcoholic products might be a potential conflict if a sponsorship agreement is signed with a beer company,” the report said. Turkey also bans popular international online services and websites such as PayPal, Booking.com or Wikipedia.
One of the most sensitive points raised by UEFA was Turkey’s human rights record. Critics inside and outside Turkey accuse Erdogan’s government of suppressing peaceful dissent, jailing demonstrators, opposition politicians, journalists and citizens of other countries for political reasons.
Ankara denies the charges but UEFA clearly was not satisfied. “The bid of the TFF meets the overall political, social responsibility and sustainability criteria,” the report said in reference to the Turkish Football Federation, but it warned: “The lack of an action plan in the area of human rights is a matter of concern.”
That sentence was an ominous sign for Turkey because the bidding process was the first that included human rights requirements.
UEFA expressed no such worries regarding the bid of the German Football Federation (DFB). “Overall, the bidder presents a motivational, creative and very professional vision,” UEFA said about the German application. “The DFB bid is of high quality and comfortably meets overall expectations when it comes to political aspects, social responsibility, sustainability and human rights.”
Germany hosted the World Cup in 2006 but has never been the site of the Euro championships as a unified country. West Germany hosted the competition in 1988, a year before the Berlin Wall came down.
Hosting Euro 2024 offers a boost to German football after a disastrous 2018 World Cup, when the country failed to qualify for the last 16 after winning the tournament in 2014.
European football’s governing body has also said it wanted to make as much money as possible from the 2024 tournament and Germany was considered the better financial bet. The German bid, in which matches would be spread over ten stadiums, has the capacity to sell 2.8 million tickets, nearly 300,000 more than Turkey.
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