By Richard Martin
(Reuters) – Turkey deserves to host the 2024 European Championship because it represents a “new frontier” that will bring great economic gains, the vice-president of the Turkish football federation said, brushing aside concerns over the country’s human rights record.
UEFA will make its final decision on the venue for its 2024 flagship tournament when its executive committee meets on Thursday at its headquarters in the Swiss town of Nyon. Germany is the only other country bidding to host the tournament.
Turkey has seen previous attempts to host Euro 2016 and the 2020 Summer Olympics fail, while Germany won the rights to host the 2006 World Cup, which was widely hailed as a success.
However, Servet Yardimci, who is spearheading the Turkish bid, believes Turkey’s attraction as a venue lies precisely in its status as an untapped resource for UEFA.
“Germany has a proven track record in hosting events but Turkey is a new market,” Yardimci told Reuters in an interview.
“It is… a completely new frontier because they (UEFA) will attract more supporters, more sponsorship, more excitement. It will bring an added value to the revenue UEFA is looking for. Definitely UEFA would be much stronger financially than if hosted by another European country.”
Holding the tournament in a country that straddles Europe and Asia would reinforce an appetite for global expansion in European soccer at the moment. Spain’s La Liga is planning to take games to the United States and UEFA is discussing the possibility of having the Champions League final in New York.
“(Turkey) is the only UEFA member that links west to east. Istanbul is also a great gateway to the Middle East and Africa,” Yardimci said.
One issue that could count against Turkey’s bid is its record on human rights. UEFA lists a country’s rights record as a factor in determining its bid, and Ankara has come under increased scrutiny since a failed coup attempt against President Tayyip Erdogan in 2016.
A crackdown on dissent has led to some 50,000 people being arrested pending trial and 150,000 state employees being sacked. Erdogan has also won sweeping new powers with his re-election in June and Turkey’s economy has been hit by a currency crisis.
But Yardimci brushed aside the concerns about politics.
“We cannot change this negative perception Turkey has outside of Turkey, but politically Turkey is very stable, very consistent,” he said, adding that he believed UEFA would look at the issue “purely from a footballing perspective”.
Turkey managed to convince UEFA this year to name Istanbul’s Ataturk Stadium as the venue for the 2020 Champions League final, beating off competition from Lisbon’s Estadio da Luz. Besiktas’s Vodafone Park stadium, also in Istanbul, will host the 2019 UEFA Super Cup.
“The trust is there already, the fact the 2020 and 2019 finals were given to Turkey demonstrates the support and trust and confidence UEFA has in us,” Yardimci added.
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Gareth Jones)