NYON/SWITZERLAND – UEFA selects the host of the 2024 European Championship on Thursday in a vote pitting a safe German bid against a riskier Turkish proposal that offers a chance to explore new terrain.
Germany, considered the favourite, has a long history of hosting major sporting events and has everything in place for a successful tournament, UEFA said in an evaluation.
Turkey, desperate to host its first ever major sporting event, boasts gleaming new stadiums and a football-mad fanbase.
But its economy is troubled, its transport network is lacking and, perhaps most importantly, the country's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has presided over an unprecedented crackdown that has prompted global concern over respect for human rights.
Germany has at times been bitterly critical of Turkey under Erdogan.
And, by extraordinary coincidence, the Turkish leader is visiting Germany on Thursday for a trip that includes talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Football can unify
Germany hosted the World Cup in 2006, but has never staged the Euro as a unified country: West Germany hosted in 1988.
The bid sees matches spread over 10 stadiums with capacity for a total of 2.78 million spectators - 290,000 more than Turkey - giving Germany a financial edge from potential ticket revenue.
UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin has made clear it is crucial “to make as much money as possible,” from Euro 2024.
But Germany is not just pitching itself as a steady hand that can host without a hitch -- it has also voiced confidence that a tournament on its soil could build societal unity.
Arsenal star Mesut Ozil, born in Germany to Turkish parents, accused the German FA (DFB) of racism when he retired from international football in July after the country's shock early exit from the World Cup.
Ozil was the target of xenophobic comments after being photographed with Erdogan in May and the DFB was blamed for bungling its response to the fracas.
Germany's vision for Euro 2024, according to UEFA, “is rooted in the belief that football can unify society.”
“We are more than convinced of our concept, but it is no longer in our hands,” former German captain and bid leader Philipp Lahm said ahead of the vote.
“Keep your fingers crossed.”
Turkey vs Germany in the race to host Euro 2024
Hopefully 🇹🇷 get it! Would be a first pic.twitter.com/R7NcLf1jlF
The polarising Turkish president has massively developed football infrastructure during his 15 years in power but has always come away empty-handed from bids for Turkey to host major tournaments.
A victory on Thursday would solidify his image as a man who can deliver, but his increasingly authoritarian reputation has not helped his cause.
Rights groups have decried the thousands of arrests that followed a failed 2016 coup.
UEFA's evaluation report noted that “the lack of action plan in the area of human rights is a matter of concern.”
But European football's governing body also praised the Turkish bid as being “in line with the long-term objectives of UEFA.”
Some have also suggested that awarding the event to the Muslim-majority nation will carry huge symbolism on a continent wrestling with religious tensions.
The vice chairman of the Turkish Football Federation, Servet Yardimci, told AFP it was “high time” his country hosted after several failed bids.
Germany the favourites?
In the contest between old reliable and uncharted waters, UEFA is expected to play it safe.
“Organising Euro-2020 in 12 different countries with different regulations is a nightmare,” said a source close to UEFA, who requested anonymity.
“For 2024, UEFA does not want to take any risks and with Germany there is the assurance that everything will be ready on time and will work perfectly,” he added.
The source further noted that arranging commercial partnerships could prove simpler in Germany.
Seventeen members of UEFA's 19-person executive committee will make the final decision in a vote at the body's lakeside Swiss headquarters. DFB president Reinhard Grindel and Yardimci are excluded from the ballot.
Earlier, the committee approved the use of Video Assistant Referees (VAR) in the UEFA Champions League from next season and for Euro 2020, following similar moves by FIFA and other top leagues.
Agence France-Presse (AFP)