When Liverpool F.C. and Chelsea F.C. – two of the world's most recognized and cherished football clubs – battled it out against each other on the occasion of the UEFA Super Cup held Wednesday Aug. 14 this year in Istanbul at Vodafone Park, soccer aficionados both at home and abroad realized how fitting a destination Turkey is to host such large-scale public events. It went smoothly, without the slightest hiccup ahead of, during or after the very important match. Basically one feels inclined to write that it went as expected; simply perfect event management in a perfect event destination.
Granted, Turkey is a nation of true lovers of the sport anyway, and has its very own domestic and European top standings. Go anywhere and chances are if you are traveling on a weekend both Turkish and European league matches are shown in cafés and restaurants up and down the country. Yet having Europe's two top teams, which won the Champions and Europa League, respectively, coming to Istanbul was nevertheless still something out of the ordinary, a very special occasion that once again underlined how important both the city and country are with a view to organizing big international sporting activities.
Anyone who ever visited Istanbul or decided to relocate might have asked herself or himself how such a huge metropolis could ever be managed; well, successive city hall administrations and their elected leaders have demonstrated that it actually can be run rather successfully. Let us not forget that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself was once a proud and enterprising mayor of the city and set standards in modern urban management (1994-1998).
From state-of-the-art underground lines to public as well as private buses and minibuses, to bridges across the Bosporus and onto tunnels underneath it, its transport infrastructure immensely improved over the past two-and-a-half decades, and we have not yet mentioned the countless ferryboats and other forms of water transport such as shared water taxis.
But fans from in Turkey and from far away must travel to and from using a plane as the most logical option.
With flights in Turkey priced very reasonably, and many European destinations only a short hop away, too, airport infrastructure is as important as any other mode of transport.
Needless to say that Istanbul's brand new record-setting airport has already, and will continue to do so much more once fully complete, play its well-deserved crowd attracting part. The moment UEFA announced its choice of location for this year's Super Cup local hoteliers received record numbers of bookings. It seemed as if fans truly appreciated the idea of journeying to Istanbul and spending more time there before and after the match. UEFA made a very clever and wise decision to award the Pearl on the Bosporus this coveted prize. It not only showcased the above-mentioned infrastructure but allowed visitors to marvel at the city's history, arts, exhibitions, shops, markets and most naturally culinary delights.
Many fans from abroad decided to travel to Turkey not simply the night before but departed from their homes well ahead of the big game. To understand the significance of the final held in Istanbul and its attraction to international spectators, we must take a look at numbers: both competing teams managed to sell 13,000 tickets between the two, and this does not include the other foreign guests who came here (the stadium accommodated just under 42 000 fans).
Once over here it is thus no wonder that many foreign fans decided to take in all the local sights and stay another, or a few more, day(s) as well.
The integration factor: Football unites
The most wonderful aspect about all things soccer here in Turkey is that while many hospitality sector businesses specially cater to the tens of thousands of fans of foreign clubs who hail from abroad and to the millions of foreign visitors who nevertheless wish to keep up with their clubs matches while in season, more often than not foreign fans are joined by Turkish football fans watching for example Premier League or La Liga matches together, or we as expatriates share the excitement with our Turkish neighbors and watch Süper Lig games side by side.
Not that Turkey is not a fantastic destination for expatriates anyways but would it be correct to assume that the easy access to sports events broadcast live everywhere makes integrating just that little bit more effortless should that ever be required?
And there is of course much more to sports than football, and all followers of anything but soccer please do not feel offended or left in the cold although this article is primarily focused on the UEFA Super Cup a few days ago to make a point. Let us soon comment on other great sporting events in due course!
Large events need impact assessments
Lauding the successful management of this year's UEFA Super Cup is absolutely justified. However, any large-scale public event creates obstacles in the way of increased traffic, tens of thousands of people requiring extra public transport, issues related to littering the grounds or adjoining streets and so on and so forth.
The best routine to come up with pre-event solutions is to carry out an environmental and event impact analysis. Here we can state those issues of concern and come up with solutions beforehand.
It might be a sound suggestion to take the positive dynamics from Wednesday's match as a springboard for future, similar or even larger occasions as not all of them will always benefit from a city center location but would mean additional noise and other forms of disturbances for residents living nearby.
After a soccer thriller that included extra time and a penalty shoot-out, Liverpool F.C. won the UEFA Super Cup. But this article was not about the result hoping in any case that the better team may take home the trophy. This short analysis was intended as a snapshot of where Istanbul and Turkey stand at the moment while becoming an ever more relevant factor in the global events industry. Well done UEFA, including the female referee team, well done Liverpool and Chelsea, well done everyone involved in guaranteeing a superbly smooth running at the state of the art Vodafone Park, including the highly entertaining pre-match cultural performance; of course, well done all spectators but above all else: Compliments to all Istanbul residents who presented their metropolis in such a splendid manner.
* Political analyst, journalist based in London