KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY
— When UEFA decided to increase the size of the European Championship finals to 24 teams it was doubtless looking at the financial equation: more matches = more TV and sponsorship income.
Similarly, when FIFA decided to run simultaneous bidding processes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups it was also looking at the financial equation. Now UEFA officials are is starting to sound like FIFA president Sepp Blatter, in later apologetic mood: “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
Expanding a competition has three specific snags.
The first is a need to find a formula for the finals which works in sporting terms; the second is changing an established qualifying system; and the third is finding a country with the infrastructural capacity.
This summer’s Euro 2012 finals will enfold 16 teams, the formula since 1996. It’s the ideal tournament format because the figures are so neat. Four groups of four, the top two progress and then quarter-finals, semi-finals and final fall nearly into place. This cannot be the case in France in 2016, the first 24-team finals.
Presumably UEFA will use the system which FIFA willed upon itself for the 24-team World Cup between 1982 and 1994: six groups of four with the top two and ‘four best third-placed teams’ going through to a second round with subsequent countdown.
Frankly, it’s messy. Also, one proven product of expanding the finals is a lowering of the standard of football because of the admission of more teams for whom merely reaching the finals is success – teams who have no serious prospect of success and go out with a defensive, spoiling mindset.
Then, the qualifying system.
UEFA president Michel Platini had hoped to streamline the preliminary tournament. He even toyed with the idea of a twin-track process for the giants and the minnows. That all came to grief. Europe’s national associations are happy with the system in place with five and six-team groups.
This will remain in place for 2016, with some UEFA misgivings because it will inevitably create more meaningless matches towards the end of the group schedules as teams qualifty ahead of time.
Finally, where to stage it?
The event bid market has been an increasingly buoyant one but an expanded European Championship may not hold quite the same fascination.
For one thing, the major sponsors are “into” all the European markets so there are no more commercial frontiers to breach. Secondly, coming up with all the stadia at the necessary standard can mean intimidatingly significant expenditure in straightened times (as France has found out ahead of 2016 with uncertainties still over venues).
Of course, co-hosting is a useful option but UEFA may look askance at going to eastern Europe again in the medium-future after all the fun and games with Poland and, particularly, Ukraine. The options are reduced.
Turkey has stated a will to bid for 2020 – after losing out to France for 2016 by just one vote – but this is complicated by Istanbul’s pursuit of the Olympic Games for the same summer. This is why UEFA breathed a collective sigh of relief earlier this week when new DFB president Wolfgang Niersbach signaled an interest from Germany.
Niersbach knows all about the European Championship. He was hired originally by the (then West) German football federation as media director when the country hosted the finals of the European Championship in 1988.
Last month UEFA set a May 15 deadline for expressions of interest. The issue will be discussed by DFB’s executive committee on April 27. UEFA has promised a decision by late 2013 or early 2014.
Fascinating to see how many serious bids are still standing.
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Also at www.WorldSoccer.com
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