FROM KEIR RADNEDGE ** —- Petr Fousek has been here, there and everywhere during the UEFA U21 Euro. No chance for a rest or a break. But then, he knew what to expect when he was appointed chairman of the local organising committee.
The road has been a long one for the Czechs. Back in 2009 they bid to host the 2013 finals and lost out narrowly to Israel. Then they demonstrated their determination by bidding again and that effort has been vindicated – as Fousek noted – in the football dramas played out in the group stage over the last 10 days.
How important has it been for the Czech Republic to host this tournament?
Organising an event such as this brings great prestige with it. The tournament enables the Czech Republic to gain international visibility and bring a lot of attention to the work of the Czech football association, the host cities and the Czech football in general.
The tournament is could also be a great opportunity as an inspiration for our youth. Young players come to see the matches. This is important for the advancement of the Czech football.
Pavel Nedved, the old Czech and Juventus star, has been in evidence at the tournament. What role has he played?
Pavel has done a lot for the tournament. We produced a video with him to promote it, for example. It is a funny movie and this a lot of our other promotion campaigns have been very successful.
How expensive is it and what are the main difficulties?
It is expensive but we had support from the Czech government, from UEFA and the host cities and a budget of £4m. The challenges are to prepare the venues, training areas and hotels. UEFA gave us a very good guidance.
Can the Czech Republic move on and organise a larger tournament?
We would love to be able to organise on our own a senior European Championship, as Portugal did in 2004. Unfortunately, the Czech Republic doesn’t have enough stadiums of the required capacity.
We had an opportunity to join in when bidding started for the matches in the group stage of Euro 2020. UEFA decided to divide the tournament among cities of different countries and we launched a process with Prague. Unfortunately there were political complications and we could not obtain all the guarantees we needed in time.
So I don’t see anything in the immediate future. Germany is the hot favourite, it seems, host Euro 2024. For us, we would have both to build new stadiums and to join with a neighbouring country, maybe Austria or Poland.
Why did you decide to host one group of UEFA U21 Euro in Olomouc and Uherske Hradiste and not in bigger cities such as Ostrava or Brno?
We decided to spread the tournament around both sides of the Czech Republic: Bohemia in the west and Moravia in the east. Especially we wanted to give every Czech fan the opportunity to access the matches.
In northern Bohemia we had hosted the under-19 tournament so we tried to avoid that part of the country this time. Also, UEFA wanted bigger stadium for the under-21s than for an U-19 championship which is why we chose the Eden and Letna venues, the homes of Slavia and Sparta, in Prague.
In Moravia it was a difficult story because in Brno the stadium wasn’t fit enough for this kind of competition, while in Ostrava work on reconstructed the stadium is still in progress.
So then we decided to play in Olomouc and Uherske Hradiste, because they both host clubs who are in the first Czech league: Sigma Olomouc and FC Slovacko. They are professional clubs which guaranteed us not only good infrastructure and venues but experienced professional local staff as well.
How have match attendances held up?
The total capacity of the stadia for the tournament is around 200,000, and we put the price of the tickets quite low, to make the tournament accessible. The cheapest ticket is around €4, the highest category a bit more so, for the general public, it has been very accessible and we have had record home attendances for matches played by our own under-21 team.
Not only that but, for example we had almost 14,000 in Prague for Germany v Denmark which was impressive. UEFA was extremely happy that for a non-Czech match, we had so many fans. I don’t want to talk about the record, which is held by Israel [in 2013] with 176,000 tickets but I think that by the end we will be very close to this number.
How do you organize the tournament security?
On safety and security UEFA is very strict and demanding but the Czech Republic is a safe country. From 2012 we had a lot of inspections from UEFA concerning the stadiums, the training grounds, the media areas, the hotels and of course we had to elaborate a safety and security concept which covers all the agencies involved.
Being tournament chairman is a major, responsible role. How would you describe a day in your life at the moment?
For a start it means only about four or five hours of sleep. In the morning I have a briefing with my team and every day at nine a clock then a daily meeting with UEFA. We evaluate what happened yesterday and the problems for today and the main challenges.
This means many meetings and, of course, a lot of media and a lot of ticketing concerns. The meetings also continue at night after the matches. We have a lot of to do but it is interesting to meet all these peoples. UEFA is very demanding and its standards are very high.
It’s been very busy work but also very enjoyable and a matter of great pride for us to welcome everyone here.
** The interview with Petr Fousek was conducted by members of the AIPS Young Reporters course organised at UEFA U21 Euro in co-operation with the European football federation in the Czech Republic. AIPS is the international sports journalists’ association with 10,000 members worldwide. More information: www.AIPSmedia.com
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