The British take football incredibly seriously, but if anybody can rival the mad love of a ball sport that originated in English public schools during the 19th century, it would be the Turks. Association football is the most popular sport in Turkey and they are desperate to host the UEFA European Championship Finals. Failed attempts to host in 2008, 2012 and 2016 and their bid withdrawal from the unique Pan-European championships of 2020 have all led to a moment in time when the Turks truly believe that they deserve to host the competition in 2024. Their official bid announced just last week.
Turkey narrowly missed out on the chance to host the European Championship of 2016 by one vote aside a controversial bid to host the 2020 Olympics, which they lost to Tokyo, and growing concerns over safety and a lack of transport infrastructure. However, President Erdoğan’s political career has been dedicated to infrastructure development and finally Turkey is in a strong position to argue their case as being the best and most prepared option for hosting such a large, world class sporting event. Since their submitted bid to host the 2016 event in 2009, a lot has changed in Turkey. The Turkish government has been working tirelessly to bring the country’s infrastructure up to par with the rest of Europe believing that successes in this area would boost the economy.
The government have also spent the last decade investing hundreds of millions of dollars in their sporting industry by backing the construction of several brand new, contemporary and luxury design stadiums.The success of these architectural creations in major cities across Turkey, such as Istanbul, Trabzon and Konya, has led to the employment of Turkish construction companies outside of the country, winning contracts to build world class stadiums all over the world, but most notably in Russia, Azerbaijan and in Doha, where the Qatari government is working tirelessly to complete work on football stadiums by 2022 when they will host the 22nd FIFA World Cup.
State of the Art Football Stadiums in Turkey
As the Turkish Football Federation announced its plans to bid to host the 2024 UEFA European Championship finals last week, Yildirim Demiroren, President of the Federation and former chairman of the Istanbul-based Turkish club Beşiktaş, stated that “Turkey is the only example of a country in Europe or even the world which has made as many as 32 stadium investments in the last few years”. The minimum requirements to stage the tournament in 2024 will be based on nine or ten stadiums, with two or three of at least 50,000 net capacity, three stadiums with at least 40,000 net capacity and four with at least 30,000 net capacity. Turkey easily meets these requirements with 12 available stadiums, four of which have a capacity of over 50,000.
In 2016 a brand new stadium was opened in Istanbul to rival the existing Atatürk Olympic Stadium, Turkey’s largest, which was built between 1999 and 2002 for their failed bid for the 2008 Olympic Games. The new Vodaphone Arena is an all-seater, multi-purpose stadium and is currently serving as the home ground of the Beşiktaş J.K football team. The arena houses 144 executive suites and boasts 2,123 square metres of restaurants, 2,520 square metres of terrace restaurants and a VIP parking capacity of 600 vehicles. The ground is a smart stadium, where fans can enjoy StadiumVision and high-speed Wi-Fi technology.
Another multi-purpose stadium was built in the central city of Konya, completed in 2014, and is also primarily used as a football venue. The Konya Büyükşehir Belediye Stadium is currently home to the club Konyaspor as well as the Turkish National team. With a capacity of 42,276 people, the stadium meets all requirements of UEFA but also offers an accompanying Sports Park which contains several apartment buildings. One of the most modern stadiums in Turkey, the Kadir Has Stadium resides in Kayseri with a capacity of 32,864 people, totally covered and offering a number of restaurants, cafes and VIP areas for fans. Transport links to the stadium in Kayseri are good with a parking capacity of 1785 cars and its close proximity to the light rail system of Kayseri.
The Antalya Arena was opened in October 2015 sporting solar panels on its rooftops that generate on average 7,200 kWh a day, enough to produce its total electricity usage for a month in just one day. The Medical Park Arena or Şenol Güneş Stadium of Trabzon was opened to the public in December 2016 with a capacity of 41,513 spectators, the only Euro 2024 stadium to be located on the Black Sea coast. The most recent completion is the Gaziantep Arena which opened on the 15th of January 2017 at a cost of $32 million.
So, Turkey is not short of large, state of the art football stadiums, but what of the infrastructure that critics appear to be so concerned about? Mr Erdoğan’s political position as Mayor of Istanbul, Prime Minister and more recently of course as President of Turkey has continued to see him successfully lead large-scale infrastructure projects across the country that exceed the scope of bureaucratic and public imagination, and directly deal with these nagging issues. Aside from encouraging major investment in major sporting venues across Turkey, ingenious new transport networks are becoming his legacy.
Istanbul may not be the capital of Turkey but the city is a major hub that sits between Europe and Asia. With a population of 14.8 million, almost three times that of Ankara, chronic traffic congestion has in the past been a plaguing issue. The Bosphorus river creates a bottleneck in the city where there has, until recently, only been two bridges across the famous stretch of water. This added to an international airport that is outdated and congested, crowded shipping lanes and a lack of alternative access between the European and Asian sides of the country, has turned the historic city into one big traffic jam.
Istanbul is where the Turkish government has concentrated most of its budget and efforts. August of 2016 saw the opening of the ground breaking Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge, the third Bosphorus Bridge in addition to the existing Bosphorus Bridge and the Faith Sultan Mehmet Bridge, adding another route between Europe and Asia in the city. The new bridge is currently the tallest suspension bridge in the world and one of the widest, allowing four lanes of motorway traffic and a railway line in each direction. 2016 also saw the completion of Istanbul’s Eurasia Tunnel, a 5km double-deck tunnel which shortens the journey time between the two continents to just 5 minutes.
Getting Around Turkey
Driving around Istanbul is becoming easier and Erdoğan’s most recent plan, the construction of a bridge across the Dardanelles Strait separating the Gallipoli Peninsula from western Anatolia, is due to begin in 2018 with an end date of 2023. This ambitious project will allow visitors arriving by road from Europe to bypass the busy city of Istanbul altogether, allowing easier and faster routes to planned UEFA Euro venues in Izmir and Bursa.
In addition to the bridge projects currently completed or about to be underway, several new motorways are being constructed across Turkey which will make a huge impact on the country’s connectivity. In all 28 projects will be implemented, 16 of which are high priority and will be completed by 2023, the remaining 12 to be be finished by 2035, adding a total of 9,680km of extensions to the motorway network. Work has already started on the Gebze-Orhangazi-zmir motorway, to be known as Otoyol 5, which will connect the cities of Istanbul and Izmir. A small part of the new highway will cross over the 2016 Osman Gazi Bridge across the Gulf of Izmit, the fourth-longest suspension bridge in the world.
Getting around Turkey by road will almost be a preferred option by 2024, with new roads and added routes between major cities across the country. However, Turkey’s State Railway is currently the 22nd largest railway system in the world and the 24th largest passenger carrier, carrying over 78 million passengers a year. If Turkey’s bid to host the UEFA European Championship finals in 2024 is successful, football fans will be able to travel easily between major venues in Istanbul, Bursa, Izmir, Konya and Gaziantep by train.
There has been a recent modernization effort on the railway network which has improved the standards of train travel across Turkey. Most trains have carpeted, air-conditioned carriages with reclining seats and two classes to choose from. Typically train travel comes in at half the cost of travelling by bus. There are several high speed routes and some overnight trains which have four-berth cabins and private cabins with en-suite facilities. Travelling cross-country by train would be the most relaxing way to commute between football stadiums allowing visitors to see the true beauty and changing terrains of Turkey.
Roads and railways aside, with Turkey being such an immense country, perhaps the easiest and fastest way to travel across this vast land is by air. Turkey is well connected in the skies with many domestic flights travelling through the hubs of Istanbul or Ankara. Flying is obviously a much quicker way of getting around and with so much competition between domestic flight operators, tickets are always affordable. AnadoluJet, a subsidiary of Turkish Airlines serves a large network of 40 airports across the country. Pegasus serves around 30 of these but also offers connecting flights from European cities and of course Turkish Airlines provides the main domestic network as well as serving countries internationally.
Getting in to Turkey
The vast majority of international visitors to Turkey enter the country through Istanbul. The historic city has been plagued by the outdated Atatürk Airport on the European side of the city, located 24km from the city centre. The existing international airport of Turkey currently serves over 60 million passengers a year making it the 11th busiest airport in the world in terms of total passenger traffic. Sadly the airport has struggled to cope with the growing number of passengers and its location has added to the growing traffic congestion concerns inside the city. Sabiha Gökçen Airport on the Asian side is at maximum terminal capacity of 25 million passengers and with no chance of expanding either airport, something had to be done to fulfil the need to accommodate new airline routes, cargo and charter flights and the growing demand of international flights.
A new international airport is currently under construction in the Arnavutköy district on the European side of Istanbul with plans to close down the ailing Atatürk Airport once the new site is operational. The airport is planned to be the largest airport in the world and a major international hub to rival that of Doha in Qatar and the UAE. The tender for construction is a 17-year contract and is made up of four construction stages. If all stages are completed, the airport would have a passenger capacity of 150 million making it the biggest airport in the world. The completion of the construction’s first stage is officially set for 2018 with the intention of completing at least an additional second stage by 2024 in time for the European Championship.
Can Turkey Host the UEFA European Championship?
In terms of infrastructure Turkey has every reason to be optimistic about their bid. The country is easily accessible, can handle large numbers of visitors and is continuing to improve upon road networks and travel costs across the country. Turkey is also home to some of the best state of the art football stadiums in the world accompanied by a multitude of accommodation facilities made available by the country’s ever growing tourism economy. Turkey has faced difficult times in recent years due to its close proximity to the war in Syria and unfortunate attacks in major cities. The chance to host such a prestigious sporting event could raise the profile of Turkey once again, promoting it as a friendly country that is as safe as any other in Europe and giving a much needed boost to economy.
Turkey’s official application to UEFA will be made on March the 2nd and all bidders will be announced on the 10th of March with the winner announced in September 2018. They will have to see off bids by three-time winners Germany and a potential joint bid from Scandinavian nations but with Turkey’s near miss in 2016, surely UEFA could make history by allowing Turkey to host the European Championship!