GENEVA (AP) — Turkey’s quest to host the men’s European Championship is among the great unfulfilled goals in world soccer.
Having newly re-elected state President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sit next to UEFA leader Aleksander Čeferin at the Champions League final in Istanbul on Saturday should only help before Turkey’s next two tournament bids are put to votes on Oct. 10.
Turkey is up against the joint U.K.-Ireland bid to host Euro 2028 and is in a Euro 2032 duel with Italy. The 2032 edition is the likely target with a widespread belief 2028 is going to the British and Irish who switched from trying to be UEFA’s preferred candidate in the 2030 World Cup race.
Voters for hosting the 24-team Euros tournaments will be members of the 20-strong UEFA executive committee who also sat with Erdoğan in the VIP section to see Manchester City beat Inter Milan on Saturday.
“We absolutely would like to win the bid because we see that our country is always capable of organizing such big-scale events successfully,” Turkey Football Federation president Mehmet Büyükekşi told The Associated Press in Istanbul ahead of the final. That was before fans complained on social media about logistical problems getting to and from Atatürk Olympic Stadium.
Turkey has tried to persuade UEFA of its hosting potential for so long that Erdoğan was not yet in national office when in 2002 the first candidacy failed. That was a joint bid with Greece for Euro 2008.
After 20 years of Erdoğan as Turkish prime minister then president since 2014, including several photo opportunities of him kicking a soccer ball, the construction project he has overseen would be key to any vote win at UEFA’s Swiss headquarters.
“We believe that Turkey’s 85 million population, the stadiums built over the last years and the investments on infrastructure are essential,” Büyükekşi said in translated comments.
Istanbul Airport opened in 2018 and is ranked top-10 globally on some metrics. Air travel would be needed for teams and fans when one host city, Trabzon, is more than 1,000 kilometers (650 miles) east of Istanbul.
The Atatürk Olympic Stadium that was renovated in recent years to hold close to 72,000 spectators is set for further upgrades. The homes of storied Istanbul clubs Galatasaray and Fenerbahce are also in the bid plan of 10 mostly state-owned stadiums.
Turkey’s rival bids have some stadiums “almost 50 years old or even 100. We already have them in a brand-new style,” Büyükekşi said. “A European Championship in Turkey can add great value to us, and we can contribute to European football.”
Turkey’s place in Europe was a factor in the campaign that led to its tightest and most frustrating loss from UEFA — the 7-6 vote won by France to host Euro 2016. Italy had been eliminated in an earlier round.
Both state presidents in 2010 came to that vote in Geneva, Abdullah Gül and Nicolas Sarkozy, who while in office strongly opposed the idea of Turkish applying to join the European Union. Before the voting ceremony, Sarkozy was personally introduced to voters by UEFA’s then-leader, France soccer great Michel Platini.
“We lost the Euro 2016 bid by just one vote,” said Büyükekşi, who was elected to lead the TFF last year. “That was kind of upsetting for us, but as we came so close to getting it we want to keep on trying.”
Turkey seemed sure to get Euro 2020 with public support from Platini, who met with Erdoğan in 2012. The insistence from Turkey also to pursue at the same time a 2020 Olympics bid, which ultimately failed, pushed UEFA to opt for a multi-nation tournament hosted across Europe.
Turkey then turned down staging the Euro 2020 semifinals and final, which England took instead for a tournament first postponed then held during a pandemic with restricted crowds.
When Turkey tried for Euro 2024, Germany’s bid was just too strong on soccer and financial grounds for UEFA to refuse. The vote five years ago was 12-4.
This run of losses, near-misses and sports politics missteps came after Turkey reached semifinals at Euro 2008 and the 2002 World Cup. As a soccer nation, it feels hosting a major tournament is due.
“We have reached a certain level but for some time we have not gone beyond that,” Hamit Altıntop, a midfielder in the 2008 team now working for the federation, told the AP.
The former Bayern Munich and Real Madrid player suggested hosting will help a next generation of players to “increase their belief, faith and self-confidence.”
“We know how passionate they are about football,” Altıntop said of Turkey’s players and fans, “and they deserve it.”
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