Keir RadnedgeTurkey risks finding that its super summer of sport has backfired when it comes to securing major prizes such as the European Championship finals and the Olympic Games.

All looked bright and rosy back two years ago. The football federation was talking of a bid for Euro 2020 and the national Olympic committee was ramping up its promotion of Istanbul to host the summer Games that same year.

Turkish politicians and sport officials could not expect to land both but surely one out of two was within their grasp?

In spring 2012 Prime Minister Recep Erdogan told UEFA president Michel Platini of his commitment to host Euro 2020. That was based on the premise of Platini’s sympathy and Turkey’s achievement in coming within one vote of beating France to 2016.

Erdogan’s mind then changed after Istanbul 2020 bid leaders showed him London 2012 and he grasped the political, diplomatic and developmental potential of the Olympics.

Simultaneously Platini and UEFA’s executive committee, irritated at the prospect of being played off against the IOC – and finding no other major takers for their overblown 24-team finals – opted for a pan-European knockout formula instead.

The TFF maintains a hope of bidding for a slice of the finals. This stems from a calendar convenience: UEFA will not register bids until after the IOC’s September vote on its own 2020 host city. Tokyo is narrow favourite with Madrid coming up fast on the rails while Istanbul has eased after a fast start.

Istanbul could be the most intriguing and exciting of the Euro and/or Olympic bids. Erdogan and his cohorts expected the Mediterranean Games in Mersin last month and the FIFA World Under-20 Youth Cup (which ended on Sunday) to portray both a Turkish love of sport and the country’s organisational potential.

They also needed the sporting fun and games to repair image damage inflicted by Istanbul’s Gezi Park development storm.

Unfortunately the Med Games were followed by a doping scandal and Turkish fans stayed away from the World Youth Cup.

Turkey put together the Mersin facilities impressively in 18 months after Volos of Greece pulled out. Attendances were good though Erdogan’s critics complained about free tickets given away to government supporters and their families.

Unfortunately the Games were followed by reports that up to 30 Turkish athletes faced doping suspensions.

Earlier this year Asli Cakir Alptekin, last year’s women’s Olymic 1500m champion, had been suspended provisionally over abnormalities in her biological passport while double European 100m hurdles champion Nevin Yanit has also tested positive for a prohibited substance.

By then the World Youth Cup was under way in seven venues across the country but with FIFA’s organising chairman Jim Boyce expressing concern about poor attendances.

The world federation may have been lulled into a false sense of popularity security by figures from previous tournaments.

Official statistics allege a questionable record attendance average of 36,099 for 32 games in Mexico in 1983. More reliably an aggregate attendance of 1,295,299 is claimed for Egypt in 2009 and 1,309,929 for Colombia in 2011.

However the official total in Turkey was a mere 293,795 (average 5,649 for 52 matches). That said little for either Turkish sports/football fans or for the promotional talents of the host federation.

Boyce was delighted by the quality of the football although tournament size was again an issue with both France and Uruguay appearing fatigue-bound in a final which the French won on penalties after neither team could manage a goal in 120 minutes.

Britain’s FIFA vice-president said: “Football has been the winner. We’ve seen some fantastic games. There’s been some really exciting football, last-minute goals, penalty shootouts, and an average 2.98 goals per game. The coaches deserve a lot of credit, they have encouraged their teams to really play football.”

But he added: “The people who didn’t turn up, missed something. We are obviously disappointed with the attendance at the games. Turkey has proved that it can organize very smoothly from all other aspects of a major competition so I honestly hope that does not have an adverse effect on the future. But it is still disappointing.

“I know that they are keen to host a European Championship and, who knows, also the World Cup. Also, I know how passionate the people in Turkey are about football but for some reason we did not get the anticipated number of fans we would have hoped.”

Boyce cautioned about a negative effect from worldwide television coverage which could not avoid showing sparsely-filled stands.

Servet Yardimci, president of the local organizing committee, suggested that the summer scheduling of the tournament plus Turkish fans’ passion for the club game may have been factors.

“We are working on this issue,” he conceded. “This is a very disappointing result although we presented children and families with free tickets. We are trying to find out the reasons and how we can learn a very important lesson.”

Turkish Olympic officials will seek to distance themselves from the response to a widely-scattered minor football event just as they have distanced themselves from a naughty minority of dope-tainted athletes.

But, with either Olympics of European football in mind, an awful lot of ground must be recovered in an awfully short space of time.

By Keir Radnedge

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