By Andrew Warshaw
August 10 – The head of Turkey’s bid for the 2024 European Championship, Servet Yardimci, believes the recent racism row involving Mezut Ozil could work in Turkey’s favour when they take on the might of Germany next month in a two-horse race to land the tournament.
Ozil’s shock decision to retire from international football after claiming he was hung out to dry by the German FA and subject to unfair discrimination over his meeting with the Turkish president in May sparked international headlines.
Ozil, who has Turkish ancestry, quit the German team at the age of 29 after revealing that he and his family had received hate mail, threatening phone calls and online abuse sparked by his Turkish roots and specifically being photographed with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
In his retirement statement, he heaped criticism on the federation, lamenting what he described as a lack of support and being used as scapegoat for Germany’s shock early elimination from the World Cup in Russia.
The German FA has responded by totally rejecting “the notion that the DFB is associated with racism”.
But the Turkish FA have already condemned Ozil’s treatment and Yardimci is of the same view.
“It has become an international story and is very unfortunate,” said Yardimci. “I hope this works in our favour because he didn’t deserve all this. These guys in the public eye should be helped. In Turkey, we welcome any player regardless of religion or roots.”
Having failed with three previous bids for the Euros and a campaign to host the 2020 Olympics, Yardimci insisted, in an interview with Insideworldfootball six weeks before the vote on September 27, that Turkey’s message of opening new frontiers and creating new markets for UEFA will be too “compelling” to ignore.
“We keep saying it because this is our strongest point. It is taking Uefa to areas it has never been before. We need to explore new areas. It is our time. Germany has already staged two World Cups, one Euro and is staging group matches in 2020.”
The highly approachable Yardimci rejects comparisons with Morocco who, after four defeats of their own, disseminated the same kind of arguments for staging the 2026 World Cup in terms of it being their time. Result? They were crushed by the north American alliance of the united States, Canada and Mexico at the vote in June.
“There is no comparison between us and Morocco,” counters Yardimci. “Turkey already has the infrastructure in place, we have stadia that are already in use and we have a strong league. There were question marks before the last World Cup about Russia but look what a fantastic job they did.”
Having turned down the chance to host the semi-finals and finals at the pan-European 2020 finals to concentrate on 2024, Turkey believe the majority of UEFA’s executive committee members will be sympathetic to their cause.
Yardimci 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. Or that there will be any suggestion of behind-the-scenes dirty tricks in the build-up to the ballot, a complaint frequently lodged by Morocco during the 2026 campaign.
“UEFA is run very professionally and transparently under Aleksander Ceferin. There is no way that money will talk in this vote. As for any behind the scenes negative behaviour, I’m confident we will not experience anything like this or that Aleksander will influence the voting members in any way.”
Unlike World Cup hosting votes, which are now open to every FIFA member association following the recent widespread reform process, Euro hosts are still determined by UEFA’s decision-making executive committee – of which Yardimci, the Turkish FA vice-president, is a member.
“Would I prefer the vote to be open to all UEFA countries? That’s a tricky question. What I will say is that Germany is a powerful opponent with a proven track record.”
“But I know we have the infrastructure, the location, the accessibility. Okay Germany has those as well but we have more. Turkish airlines flies to more countries than any other airline in the world.”
Having lost out by a single vote to France for Euro 2016, the Turks wouldn’t be at all surprised if the same margin of victory and defeat happens again. But this time, they hope, in their favour.
“It’s going to be tight, very tight,” concedes Yardimci. “Maybe it could come down to one or two votes, just like for 2016. But I have no fear.”
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