Football diplomacy deflated

In soccer terms, the bid by Greece and Turkey to host the Euro 2008 Championship survived into extra time yesterday. But UEFA, European soccer’s ruling body, finally rejected the joint effort – billed by Athens and Ankara as a chance to boost troubled bilateral relations, along with a separate bid by Hungary – to award the event to Austria and Switzerland. The Greek-Turkish candidature made it past joint bids by the four Nordic countries, Scotland and Ireland, Bosnia and Croatia, and a solo effort by Russia. Greek soccer federation head, Vassilis Gagatsis, in blame-the-referee mode, hinted at foul play. «In their comments, the UEFA people described [our] bid as perfect, but other aspects were also brought into play,» he said. Turkish officials were even less sanguine. «It isn’t fair play to give it to Switzerland and Austria,» Ata Aksu, vice president of the Turkish Football Association, complained. «This was done for political reasons.» Athens and Ankara had hoped UEFA would be swayed by the prospect of soccer bringing the two peoples closer, along the lines of the 1999 earthquake diplomacy. When both countries were battered by powerful quakes three years ago, the good will engendered by cooperation in rescue efforts and a widely felt sense of common victimhood were adroitly used by the Greek and Turkish foreign ministers to fuel a diplomatic thaw. In a letter to UEFA Chairman Lennart Johansson on Wednesday, Foreign ministers George Papandreou and Yasar Yakis played up this angle. «Greece and Turkey have entered a new phase of cooperation and understanding, and working together on this candidacy would be an important step forward, which would further strengthen our partnership,” the ministers argued.

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