The European football federation – like world authority FIFA with its ‘double World Cup’ catastrophe – allowed commercialism to take precedence over sporting consideration when it decided to to expand the finals from the ‘perfect 16’ to 24 nations.
That was fine in a different economic climate when there were football-rich western European countries queueing up. Thus France beat off Turkey for 2016, the first of the super-sized tournaments.
But that was then. This is now.
In January it became clear that even the French were struggling to juggle an adequate number of host cities and venues. Then, in March, UEFA suddenly decided to set a short-time mid-May deadline for expressions of interest in hosting 2020.
Perhaps UEFA’s marketing men, in a little world of their own in Switzerland, expected a rush of bidders. If so they misjudged both the global economy and the intimidatory nature of a 24-team finals.
Turkey, predictably after the 2016 near-miss, leaped at it. The powerful German federation said Yes then, last week, came to its senses and said No.
Whispers of a joint bid by Azerbaijan and Georgia had been heard. But, never mind the desperate problems planning a 16-team finals in Poland and Ukraine, the Azeris pulled back, anyway; enthusiasm in Scandinavia for a three-way bid by a mixture of Nordic nations has long since evaporated.
So, right now, Turkey is the only credible candidate
However . . . the Turkish city of Istanbul is also bidding to host the Olympic Games in 2020. The Olympic decision by the IOC will be made first, in September 2013; the Euro 2020 decision by UEFA will follow in December 2013 or even January 2014.
Clearly Turkey cannot host both. Indeed, IOC rules and regulations preclude another major event within the immediate Olympic timescale.
Next month the executive board of the International Olympic Committee will meet in Quebec, Canada, during the annual SportAccord Convention. Top of the agenda will be deciding which of the five 2020 Games candidates (Baku, Doha, Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo) should be approved for the final stage of the bid process.
Istanbul, a perpetual Olympic bidder, is considered a serious contender this time around. The bid has been well-crafted and the message clear: Istanbul would be a fit and proper venue as a city which spans both Europe and Asia and as the first Islamic host (though it is formally a secular nation). “A new bid from a new Turkey,” is the cry.
A massive matchfixing scandal has cast a vast shadow across Turkish football and, to a lesser extent, basketball but – at this stage – it should not be an impediment to Istanbul going forward.
Then what? The Olympics or the Euros?
Football is by far the most popular sport in Turkey; the fanaticism of fans in the major cities – Istanbul, Trabzon, etc – is renowned throughout the world.
However, reasons of national and international politics, investment potential and commercial interests mean that the Turkish government – whatever the recent words of Prime Minister Recep Erdogan to UEFA and its president Michel Platini – would prefer the Olympics when push comes to shove.
Members of the Turkish National Olympic Committee believe that if the IOC, in Quebec, tells Istanbul to ‘carry on bidding’ then the government will exert strong pressure on the Turkish Football Federation to drop its Euro 2020 bid.
One weapon within the government’s armoury would be ‘helping’ Turkish football to resolve the matchfixing scandal and normalize its relations with UEFA (which infuriated many clubs and fans by forcing the TFF to bar the Champions League path to champions Fenerbahce last summer).
In that case UEFA would be left without a realistic host for Euro 2020.