By Richard Martin
KIEV (Reuters) – The 2020 Champions League final in Istanbul will have none of the logistical problems that marred the 2005 final in the city or Saturday’s showpiece in Kiev, the vice president of the Turkish Football Federation has said.
Istanbul’s Ataturk Olympic Stadium, scene of the memorable match when Liverpool clawed their way back from 3-0 against AC Milan to win on penalties, pipped Lisbon’s Estadio da Luz to stage the 2020 final following a meeting of UEFA’s executive committee on Thursday.
Back in 2005, only one road linked the centre of Istanbul and the Ataturk Olympic Stadium, causing serious traffic jams and supporters complaining of combined journey times of seven hours to get from the city to the ground. Fans also complained of prohibitively expensive flight prices.
“Today there is no problem whatsoever, the accommodation, connections, roads, railways and underground are in place and there will be no problem in terms of logistics. It will be a fantastic venue,” Turkish federation vice president Servet Yardimci told Reuters in an interview in Kiev.
“In 2005 it was probably too early to have hosted that final, the stadium was completed and immediately after when this final took place we had some hiccups.
“We have given guarantees over security, logistics and financial guarantees. Turkey, especially Istanbul, has developed so much (since 2005) that you would expect this kind of development to have occurred in 80 years. Istanbul is also a great gateway to the Middle East and Africa.”
Logistical problems also affected Saturday’s Champions League final in Kiev, where Real Madrid beat Liverpool 3-1. Madrid returned 1,000 tickets due to extortionate travel and accommodation costs, while an estimated 1,000 English supporters were unable to travel due to flight cancellations.
Yardimci, who is on UEFA’s executive committee and is also heading up Turkey’s bid to host the 2024 European Championships, says rapid development of Istanbul, which will open a new airport with two runways in October, means no such problems will affect the 2020 event.
“We have made a tremendous development throughout Turkey, having built bridges, roads, tunnels, railways, airports,” he added.
“The new airport in Istanbul will be probably the biggest in the world, certainly the biggest in Europe, about 20 minutes away from the Ataturk stadium, which also has underground connections.”
Yardimci believes Turkey’s location as the link between Europe and Asia makes it a serious contender to beat Germany to host Euro 2024, which would be the first major sports event in Turkey after failed bids to host Euro 2016 and the 2020 Summer Olympics.
One potential stumbling block to Turkey’s hopes is UEFA stating bid requirements contain criteria relating to the respect of human rights.
A crackdown on dissent since a failed coup attempt against President Tayyip Erdogan in 2016 has led to some 50,000 people being arrested pending trial and 150,000, including teachers, judges and soldiers being sacked, which could give the upper hand to Germany, although Yardimci is not worried.
“Turkey has signed human rights treaties, we are fully in compliance as far as were concerned so that won’t be an issue for us at all,” he said.
“Germany has a proven track record they have done the World Cup twice, the Euros one time. But Turkey is a new market, new territory to UEFA.
“Turkey is not only a location financially or logistically but a great football country for the passion people have for their teams. It’s a religion for us to support a team, it is a football country so why not explore new markets, new passion.”
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Christian Radnedge)