Turkey wants it all, according to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He has just told UEFA Congress that, apart from Istanbul bidding to host the Olympic Games in 2020, the country also wants to host the European Championship finals a couple of months earlier.
Also, significantly, he promised that tough action would be taken to combat matchfixing – picking up a theme raised by FIFA president Sepp Blatter – because he acknowledged that cleaning up the game in Turkey was an essential prefrequisite for a country with ambitions to welcome European football, if not all of the world sport.
Erdogan, in a speech wandering across his own youthful playing career and the great moments of the World Cup, insisted that seeing UEFA staging its Congress in Istanbul was a first step along the road which would, he hoped, lead to European football returning for the 2020 European Championship.
He said: “We will shortly be making up for past delays over sporting infrastructure by announcing the construction of 18 new stadia . . . because the population of Turkey is a young one, half below 30 years of age, and this is country with great economic and sporting potential. It is also a country which loves football and has countless supporters.”
The 2020 ambition was opened up by the UEFA executive committee’s decision on Wednesday to invite bids from prospective hosts for Euro 2020. One delicate issue for the Turks will be resolving the ongoing matchfixing scandal – currently in court – while another is the fact that Istanbul is already a declared candidate to host the Olympic Games in that same year.
The decision on the 2020 Olympics – Istanbul is well-favoured in competition with Baku, Doha, Madrid and Tokyo – will be taken by the International Olympic Committee in Buenos Aires in September 2013. The Euro 2020 decision falls the following December or January. But Erdogan’s expression of ambition was no surprise given that Turkey lost out by only one vote to France when UEFA’s executive decided on Euro 2016.
He certainly left no-one in doubt about his personal will to present a whiter-than-white image to Europe and the world after the storm last summer over UEFA’s decision to ban Fenerbahce from this season’s Champions League because of matchfixing allegations (most specifically concerning their decisive victory over Sivassspor on the very last day of the season).
Fenerbahce are currently pursuing a €43m compensation claim against UEFA in the Court of Arbitration for Sport and Erdogan, to some extent, took up the club’s case in stating that the full force of the law should be brought to bear not so much against institutions as against individuals.
He made that comment against the backdrop that 93 people – including the president and Fenerbahce and 14 players from the top two divisions – are facing court action.
Erdogan said: “The entire football industry – advertising, finance, sports officials – must defend the integrity of the game. Football is an art and it is imperative to preserve and defend it to protect its legacy of peaceful coe-existence for future generations. The priority should always be fair play and we must take the most powerful and determined measures to outlaw violence and trickery.”
But Turkey must now convince both European football and the Olympic movement not only that the country’s football is being cleaned up but that both its 2020 bids are equally credible – and it could manage both. The danger is that the Turks could always end up as losers all round.
By Keir Radnedge