Germany and Turkey go head to head for the right to host the European Championship Finals in 2024. Andrew Warshaw discovers how each nation hopes an open and transparent approach to the bid will help secure the votes needed.
As Germany and Turkey go head to head for the right to host the European Championship Finals in 2024. Andrew Warshaw discovers how each nation hopes an open and transparent approach to the bid will help secure the votes needed.
The similarities are striking. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. Up against a heavyweight rival. Eager to reward a football-mad nation with the ultimate prize. Just as Morocco tried desperately to upset the odds and land the 2026 FIFA World Cup, so Turkey are equally determined to make up for lost time and stage the 2024 UEFA European Championship finals after three demoralising failures.
Turkey may have the sympathy vote when they take on mighty Germany at the head-to-head ballot by UEFA’s executive committee on 27th Sept. But as history shows and Morocco found to their cost when losing for the fifth time in June, sympathy doesn’t always translate into votes. Which is exactly what the Germans, with their experience and know-how, are banking on when the campaigning ends and the votes are counted.
Germany’s biggest problem is not organisational capability but trying to shake off recollections of the unseemly conduct that marred their 2006 World Cup bid and which still hangs over the new-look federation.
The investigation into whether German officials, including Franz Beckenbauer, bought votes to win the right to host the 2006 tournament is ongoing and with the fallout over the murky process an ever-present memory and one the current DFB regime would rather leave behind, no stone is being left unturned to restore Germany’s reputation as honest as well as efficient brokers and convince enough of UEFA’s executive committee to give them the nod over the underdogs.
In fact you could argue, judging by a recent visit to Munich by a hand-picked group of international reporters, that the Germans are being squeaky clean. Take, for instance, the assessment process for the 10 stadia that have been submitted to UEFA, conducted with the assistance of Transparency International.
Interestingly, Hannover, which was a 2006 World Cup city and is the capital of DFB chief Reinhard Grindel’s home state, Lower Saxony, was not selected after coming only 12th in the ranking.
“Of course I’m disappointed and some of my old friends asked me: ‘How can this be?’ But, after everything that has happened, we were absolutely determined to run a fair and open tender process and what this shows is how independent the process was,” says Grindel.
“I doubt whether in previous times the place where the DFB president came from would not be chosen. Different times, different decisions.” Which effectively means everything being done by the book without a hint of backbiting, personal favours or behind-the-scenes skullduggery.
“We have learned from the mistakes of the past,” insists Grindel. “It’s a question of credibility that we have an exemplary bidding process.” Also perhaps in Germany’s favour is the fact that UEFA may be inclined to go for the safe option following the pan-European, 13-city tournament in 2020 that was the brainchild of Michel Platini but is throwing up a number of logistical headaches and is not entirely supported in concept by Platini’s successor Aleksander Ceferin.
Then there is also the question of whether Turkey, given its currency crisis, might scare off voters even though 2024 is still six years away during which time the Turkish economy might well recover.
Grindel is loath to discuss the pros and cons of Turkey’s campaign. Bidding rules prevent him from doing so. But there is no doubt he is nervous, so much so that he reportedly wrote to Gianni Infantino late last year to question why the FIFA president had personally praised the Turkish bid when he met with controversial Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Infantino’s reply, according to the German media, was not exactly complimentary towards Grindel.
Although FIFA has no direct input into the 2024 bid process, Infantino, it should be noted, is a former UEFA general-secretary with friends in the very highest places. Whether this will count against Germany remains to be seen. The Germans believe it will not make the slightest difference and that their multi-cultural image and bid slogan of ‘United by Football’ will carry enough weight to land the tournament despite the fact that the Turks are bidding for the fourth time.
“I have the impression that how many times you have bid already is not necessarily the most important argument,” was all Grindel, a former politician, was prepared to say publicly about the rival bid.
“The only crucial question is what is the best decision for football in Europe and for UEFA which needs a strong financial basis? We can guarantee sustainable revenues and maximum income. Sustainability is perhaps the key to our whole bid.”
Grindel’s bid team would never come out and say as much but Turkey’s chances of ending years of disappointment by finally landing 2024 might also potentially be scuppered by a new human rights provision in UEFA’s hosting guidelines. UEFA is unlikely to accept anything less than complete compliance and with Turkey’s human rights record constantly under scrutiny, some insiders have suggested this could play into Germany’s hands.
“We want to organise a tournament that reflects the values of UEFA, the values of a united Europe,” says Grindel diplomatically. “UEFA needs a host which can guarantee political and economic stability. We are the right partner at the right time.”
Part of that message clearly hints at Germany’s use of football to reflect its tolerant policy on immigration. Figures show that 50,000 registered players arrived as refugees since 2015.
“The ball is not interested in by whom it is kicked,” says Grindel. That may be true in general yet the hugely divisive case of Mesut Ozil simply won’t go away. The Arsenal midfielder, who has Turkish roots, quit the German national team for good following the global outcry over being photographed with Erdogan, claiming the DFB did not give him sufficient support.
The Turks believe Ozil’s shock decision to retire claiming he was hung out to dry by the German FA and was subject to unfair discrimination could help swing votes their way.
“I hope this works in our favour because he didn’t deserve all this,” says Servet Yardimci, head of Turkey’s bid committee. “In Turkey, we welcome any player regardless of religion or roots.”
Hardly a convincing argument given the country’s human rights record. A better one is Turkey’s message of opening new frontiers and creating new markets for UEFA. Yardimci believes this will be too compelling to ignore. The Turkish bid is based around nine cities from Istanbul in the west to Trabzon in the east and Gaziantep in the south.
“We keep saying it because it is our strongest point – we are taking UEFA to areas it has never been before,” says Yardimci. “Turkey is a gateway between Europe, Asia and Africa. It is our time. Germany has already staged two World Cups, one Euro and is staging group matches in 2020.”
“We respect Germany as a powerful opponent. They have a proven track record and have done everything successfully. But we think we can deliver just as well as them if not better.”
Yardimci is keen to point out, too, that Turkey deliberately turned down the chance to host the semi-finals and finals at the pan-European 2020 finals to concentrate on 2024. He rejects the notion that UEFA will follow the money trail and act in a similar way to FIFA in terms of voting for the candidate that can guarantee the most revenue.
“We were offered the semis and final (of 2020) before they went to England. We said no because Turkey is ready and able to do the whole tournament. UEFA is run very professionally and transparently under Aleksander Ceferin. There is no way that money will talk in this vote. But it’s going to be tight, very tight. Maybe it could come down to one or two votes, just like for 2016. But I have no fear.”
Nor do the Germans as both sides put the finishing touches to their final and potentially pivotal respective addresses to UEFA members on the morning of the vote in Switzerland. “We are convinced that we have given UEFA very good arguments that we will be a very trustworthy host,” said Markus Stenger, head of the DFB’s bid team.
“I think we will make it very difficult for executive committee members to say no to us.”