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Turkiye turns to quest for hosting Euros after Champions League final

GENEVA (AP) – Turkiye’s quest to host the men’s European Championship is among the great unfulfilled goals in world football.

Having newly re-elected state President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sit next to UEFA leader Aleksander Ceferin at the Champions League final in Istanbul on Saturday should only help before Turkiye’s next two tournament bids are put to votes on October 10.

Turkiye is up against the joint United Kingdom-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 Erdogan in the VIP section to see Manchester City beat Inter Milan on Saturday.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan kicks a ball during a football summit in Istanbul, Turkiye. PHOTO: AP

“We absolutely would like to win the bid because we see that our country is always capable of organising such big-scale events successfully,” Turkiye Football Federation president Mehmet Buyukeksi 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 Ataturk Olympic Stadium.

Turkiye has tried to persuade UEFA of its hosting potential for so long that Erdogan 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 Erdogan as Turkish prime minister then president since 2014, including several photo opportunities of him kicking a football, the construction project he has overseen would be key to any vote win at UEFA’s Swiss headquarters.

“We believe that Turkiye’s 85 million population, the stadiums built over the last years and the investments on infrastructure are essential,” Buyukeksi 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 kilometres east of Istanbul.

The Ataturk 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.

Turkiye’s rival bids have some stadiums “almost 50 years old or even 100. We already have them in a brand-new style”, Buyukeksi said. “A European Championship in Turkiye can add great value to us, and we can contribute to European football.”

Turkiye’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.

“We lost the Euro 2016 bid by just one vote,” said Buyukeksi, 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.”

Turkiye seemed sure to get Euro 2020 with public support from former UEFA president and Michael Platini, who met with Erdogan in 2012. The insistence from Turkiye 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.

Turkiye 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 Turkiye tried for Euro 2024, Germany’s bid was just too strong on football 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 Turkiye reached semifinals at Euro 2008 and the 2002 World Cup. As a football 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,” midfielder in the 2008 team now working for the federation Hamit Altıntop 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 Turkiye’s players and fans, “and they deserve it”.

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