NYON: UEFA, acknowledging economic reality and a need for common sense, will stage the 2020 European Championship finals across a swathe of a dozen countries writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
The overwhelmingly positive reaction from the European federation’s 53 members, at a series of consultation meetings, led it to pre-empt the planned formality of a decision by the executive committee next month.
That may also be taken as a tacit admission that UEFA has been misguided in its move to expand the finals to 24 teams, almost half the membership, in France in 2016.
Fan power appears to have had an effect. Supporters’ refusal to rush all over the vast distances of Poland and Ukraine this past summer was another factor weighed in the balance.
Turkey provided the only objection but this was more a gesture to domestic and highly complex sports/politics concerns intertwined with power games connected to Istanbul’s 2020 Olympic Games bid.
The general horizon for 2020 is that the usual qualifying competition will be followed by a pan-European finals tournament staged in 12 cities with the semis and the final in a 13th (Possibly Berlin, possibly Wembley, possibly somewhere else entirely).
Platini and UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino have both insisted that the 60th anniversary tournament is a one-off. But who knows? A Euro for Europe has a lot going for it. One plus is the opportunity to pull back from the contentious expansion to a 24-team, single-venue tournament in France in 2016.
Infantino said: “Euro 2020 will be staged across the continent, in various major cities, following a decision taken today. A Euro for Europe follows an initial idea by UEFA president Michel Platini . . . the response has been extremely positive from all the national associations.”
The bidding process for the host cities would start in March and decisions would be made in the spring of 2014.
Platini, who won the tournament in 1984 with France, has justified the concept as a way of avoiding high costs at a time of financial hardship but UEFA also faced the painful reality that – apart from Turkey – no countries of significant size were interested in bidding.
The original European Championship finals, from 1960 to 1976, comprised a quartet of teams playing two semi-finals, a third-place play-off and the final in the country of one of the last four.
The staging award was thus made late in the day – far later than would be possible now with all the organisational and administrative demands for state-of-the-art infrastructure, security etc.
Italy in 1980 saw eight finalists with two first-round groups then it was up to 16 in four groups with standard knock-out rounds from England’s Euro 96 onwards. Just about everyone in football knows that a 16-team formula is perfect in terms of size, quality, time and quality threshold.
FIFA, for example, has turned the World Cup into financial giant by going to 24 then 32 teams; but that vote-winning expansion has come at the expense at a sporting cost.
The more teams, the lower the quality quotient. The world federation created a Task Force of old players, rather than professional observers and analysts, to come up with ideas of making the finals ‘more attractive’ and the project ended in predictable money-wasting failure.
Also, the more teams the greater the complications in finding a tournament venue. In the current economic climate, very few single nations are interested in the expenditure required when spending on priority social, educational, scientific projects is under pressure.
As UEFA has also discovered, the number of realistic co-hosting options is limited. The Nordic nations have blown hot and cold over the years on a joint bid while Ireland-Scotland-Wales and Azerbaijan-Turkey ‘expressed an interest’ in 2020 but without enthusing UEFA president Michel Platini & Co.
Platini, whose nose for vote-securing competition tweaks remains as sharp as ever, come up with the pan-European concept at a meeting of the UEFA executive committee this past summer. The idea harks back to the original European competitions and makes practical sense – albeit the devil will be in sorting the detail.
Will the finals comprise home-and-away matches or will the qualifying group winners be the only ones guaranteed home matches?
Will only competing countries be guaranteed a match?
If not, would fans in Lisbon – for example – turn out to watch a one-off tie between, say, Ukraine and Switzerland?
The benefits are clear: no single host (or co-host partnership) would be burdened with major staging expenditure while fans should be guaranteed a couple of ‘easy-travel’ home games.
As Platini, on springing the idea on Europe last June, said: “It will be a lot easier from a financial perspective for all the countries.”
Clearly, another vote-winner.
# # #