KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY
— The inaugural European Championship featured four teams playing two semi-finals, a third-place play-off and the final in one country . . . and that is where it is heading back in 2020.
This past summer’s co-hosted finals in Poland and Ukraine were the last to be played with 16 teams. The finals expand, contentiously, to 24 nations in France in 2016 but the future beyond is clouded in consultation.
Originally Turkey was pencilled in as host but that option was rubbed out when the Turkish government also threw its weight behind Istanbul’s bid to stage the Olympic Games in the same summer. That the same country should both is out of the question both for UEFA and for the International Olympic Committee.
The economic downturn and the sheer scale of investment needed to host a 24-team finals has proved so intimidating that no serious bids are on the table despite co-hosting interest expressed by Azernbaijan with Georgia and Ireland with Wales and with Scotland.
Hence UEFA president Michel Platini sprang a summer surprise when he ‘thought out loud’ in Kyiv in June about taking the finals to a dozen cities across Europe. Exactly how it would work is unclear, even to Platini himself. The opinions of the 53 European national associations are being sought and UEFA’s executive will study the feedback next January.
In the meantime Platini sought, this past week in Monaco, to put a little flesh on very fragile bones.
“Turkey were favourites to host the Euro in 2020 but now, with the Olympic Games, I don’t know,” said Platini with a dismissive tone which suggested he knows very well that that option is off the table.
Thus he continued: “My preference in 2020 is to have 13 cities in 13 different countries because I want the semi-finals and final in one city.”
The Euros, originally labelled the European Nations Cup, featured four nations from the event’s inception in 1960 until 1976. It expanded to eight teams in 1980 and has featured 16 since Euro 1996 in England.
By 2020 UEFA’s nations may have sorted out a new qualifying system, too. The fact that almost half the membership will compete in the 2016 finals had prompted Platini and his advisers to propose a reorganised, split-track formula for the qualifiers. The federations gave that a resounding thumbs-down at a strategy conference in Cyprus.
A disappointed Platini said: “We said to the national associations that now they had the 24 finalists they had wanted and we could propose some differences in the qualifying system but the majority wanted to stay like it is with eight groups of six teams and one of five.”
A decision has yet to be taken but it is likely that the top two teams in each group will go direct to the finals with a play-off system for the best third-placed teams resolving the remainder.
“Afterwards,” said Platini, “perhaps they will see they need to change something for the future.”
In the meantime UEFA is also trying to persuade a few remaining doubters to commit to the agreement on the centralised marketing of television right to all qualifying matches in both the European Championship and the World Cup.
Up to now all national associations have been ‘free’ to sell TV rights on the open market. The standard has been for all home matches to be sold in a package to one domestic broadcaster with away match rights going piecemeal to the higher bidder.
This has worked profitably for Europe’s elite but not as equably for the middle-ranked and minnow nations.
Platini’s scheme for centralised rights should guarantee a better return for the small nations but the big boys are concerned about taking a pay cut in a troubled economic climate. UEFA says that all the national associations were unanimous in signing up to the concept but the practicalities are proving troublesome.
Platini said: “It was a large unanimous decision to centralise television rights for national team games. It’s difficult for UEFA but since it is good for the national associations we have to do it. We will do our best to give more money . . . and I hope we will reach our target.”
= = = = =