NEWS

Euro 2008 bid unites Greeks, Turks

The soccer federations of Greece and Turkey yesterday agreed to submit a joint application to host the 2008 European Championship. Members of the joint organizing committee met in Istanbul and agreed to submit the bid to European soccer authority UEFA on November 20, the deadline for the submission of bids. They also agreed to hold an international tender to hire an experienced consultant who will compile the candidacy file. The joint bid committee will have offices in Athens and Istanbul. If UEFA decides to award the championship to Greece and Turkey, the opening match will be played in Istanbul and the final in Athens. Talk of a joint bid has been bandied about since 1999, when the two countries’ relations began to improve. Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou has actively encouraged the bid. Last week, he declared his official support and offered Foreign Ministry funds to help the bid. The bid has been viewed with skepticism, if not outright hostility, by many Greeks who feel this is taking Greek-Turkish rapprochement too far at a time when Turkey continues with a hard-line stance on Cyprus’s EU candidacy and a number of bilateral issues remains unresolved. As if to confirm skeptics’ fears, the Turkish Soccer Association had proposed that the opening ceremony in Istanbul take place on May 29, 2008, the 555th anniversary of the city’s capture by the Turks, which marked the end of the Byzantine Empire. The Hellenic Soccer Federation said it could not possibly agree to that particular date.