After four failed bids in the recent past, Turkey is finally set to be awarded the hosting rights for a major international football tournament this week when UEFA decides where Euro 2032 will be staged.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has long dreamt of hosting one of the world’s most prestigious sporting events.
Now he is set to finally get the chance, despite the country being mired in an economic crisis with the annual inflation rate hovering near 60 percent.
On Tuesday, UEFA’s executive committee meets to announce the hosts for the 2028 and 2032 European Championships.
Turkey withdrew its bid to host in 2028 in order to focus all its effort on a united proposal with Italy to stage the tournament four years later.
That bid has no rivals.
Erdogan is not feigning an interest in what is Turkey’s most popular sport — in his younger years he played at semi-professional level and he is an avowed supporter of Fenerbahce, the Istanbul giants who are one of the country’s biggest clubs.
Winning the right to host the biggest sporting event in Europe would be one of the crowning moments of his time in power.
It would also be highly symbolic in political terms.
“In modern times, sport has always been perceived as a means for Turkey to forge its own legitimacy and compete equally with the rest of the western world,” says Daghan Irak, a lecturer in media communication at the University of Huddersfield in England.
“Erdogan has not diverted from that historic strategy.”
Erdogan became prime minister at the end of 2002, at the same time Turkey’s joint bid with Greece — during a period of improving relations between the two countries—to host Euro 2008 failed.
UEFA awarded that tournament to Austria and Switzerland.
Turkey then went out on its own in a bid to host Euro 2012, only to miss out to a joint Ukraine-Poland candidacy, while in 2016 it lost out to France.
Human rights concerns
They then missed out to Germany for Euro 2024, with UEFA’s evaluation of the bid highlighting concerns about the country’s “lack of an action plan in the area of human rights”.
After four failed attempts, and having joined forces with Italy, the lack of any rival contenders means Turkey is now sure to get its chance.
That is despite human rights concerns still lingering following Erdogan’s re-election as President in May—he has not shown any clemency towards, or announced an amnesty for, tens of thousands of political opponents who have been imprisoned.
Turkey’s Court of Cassation recently upheld a sentence of life imprisonment for Osman Kavala, a benefactor and philanthropist accused of financing anti-government protests in 2013.
Kavala will serve his sentence in isolation and has no possibility of early release.
“Unfortunately these actions continue to undermine Turkey’s prospects of joining the EU,” said Nacho Sanchez Amor, the European Parliament’s rapporteur on Turkey.
Previous Turkish bids have also fallen down due to questions about stadiums in the country.
However, that is no longer a problem according to Bagis Erten, a contributor to Socrates magazine who teaches sports communication at Kadir Has University in Istanbul.
“If the AKP (the ruling party since 2002) know how to do one thing, it is build,” he says.
“They love that! We really have a lot of good stadiums now.”
Erten cites examples in medium-sized cities like Trabzon, on the Black Sea, Konya and Eskisehir in Central Anatolia, and Izmir, the country’s third-largest city, situated on the Aegean Sea coast.
“Our stadiums are now better prepared than in a lot of other countries,” he adds.
He believes Turkey could not bid to host a global event like the Olympics, “but it is absolutely in a position to host the Euro, in economic and security terms as well as for it’s footballing culture and the crowds that go to matches”.
In June it hosted the UEFA Champions League final, when Manchester City beat Inter Milan at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul.
“Turkey is ready now,” Erten insists.
And in terms of integration into Europe, Irak adds, “it is much easier for Erdogan’s Turkey to organise an international football tournament than to respect the verdicts of the European Court of Human Rights”.
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