With Sepp Blatter’s attempts to take the FIFA World Cup to all corners of the globe coming under serious scrutiny in recent years, UEFA’s announcement that the European Championships in 2020 could take place in up to thirteen host countries raised a few eyebrows.
The announcements last year that the 2018 World Cup would be held in Russia and the 2022 competition in Qatar caused bemusement amongst many football fans, with Russia seeing off bids from established football nations in England and Spain whilst Qatar have no infrastructure in place to host such a large scale events, whilst unbearable summer temperatures were also questioned.
Russia have gone some way towards dispelling any doubt over their ability to host the competition. Group stage games will be held in set areas which limits the amount of travelling supporters have to do across the country whilst a football league growing in popularity provides the country with a host of top-class venues.
Qatar, however, have done little to absolve themselves of scrutiny. Initial ideas for air conditions stadiums have disappeared, with senior football figures touting the possibility of the World Cup being held in the winter, causing havoc for domestic football leagues across the globe, most notably in England where there is no winter break built in to the Premier League.
UEFA, by comparison to their global counterparts, have played it safe in the awarding of host status for their top competition the European Championships. Established countries such as Portugal in 2004 have hosted the competition in recent years, and when less established countries have won the bid, such as Poland, they have been paired with another, such as Ukraine.
Such safe measures of host awarding have led to a string of successful competitions both on the pitch and off it. There have been minimal operational problems and little issue with supporters troubles outside of the stadiums, with the ever growing popularity of the ‘fan park’ ensuring a safe and friendly environment which attracts those oh so lucrative family supporters.
Now though Europe’s governing body are set to shake up the way in which the competition is hosted completely, with the 2020 competition set to be held across a host of countries around the continent, with as many as thirteen countries potentially hosting the games featuring the 24 teams that will make up the competition.
The decision to host the competition all across Europe, which was made by the executive committee on Thursday, is one that has divided opinion amongst the various stakeholders in the game, though several top chiefs of domestic football associations and UEFA president Michel Platini, who initially came up with the idea, firmly believe it is a good move.
There reasoning is sound enough. By hosting the competition across Europe several countries those nations who lack the finances and facilities to host the whole competition have the chance of staging a game, with Wales’ 70,000 seat Millenium Stadium being a prime example alongside Romania’s brand-new 52,000 capacity arena, who will both be hopeful of hosting one or more fixtures.
With Europe in the grips of a major economic crisis the plans also ease the financial burdens which normally occur when countries opt to host the tournament themselves or as part of a joint bid, with the spread out competition requiring no additional stadiums to be built, with Europe having an ample supply of top quality facilities.
Uncertainly over the plans has also been cooled by the fact that, for now, the cross-continental competition is only set to happen in 2020, with UEFA spreading out the fixtures in order to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the tournament, though success in 2020 may see Europe’s governing body backtracking on the one-off concept.
The main concerns, then, seem to be about how supporters will be impacted by the expansive set up. Transportation is always a key issue in any major football competition and a good system for ensuring fans can follow their teams with the least hassle and financial outlay is of even more importance when venues are spread throughout the continent.
Common sense would dictate that each group would have their games held close together, with Welsh FA boss Jonathan Ford highlighting the fact that Dublin, Belfast, Cardiff and Manchester, though spread across four separate countries, would be ideal as the cities are closer together than some of the venues in the last tournament in Poland/Ukraine.
The difficulties come in awarding host status for the latter stages of the competition. Wembley has already been touted as potential venue for the final but Turkey’s plans to host the tournament outright will see them want a major game held in the country, which could see supporters travelling to Istanbul for the semi-final before having to travel five hours by air to London for the final.
And whilst UEFA have been solid in their awarding of European Championships as of recent their Champions League final record is less sound. 2005 saw the final hosted in the Ataturk Stadium, miles outside of Istanbul in the middle of nowhere whilst the Athens final in 2007 was poorly organised in a venue not suited to holding high-level football.
UEFA could play it safe and award games to stadiums in the main football countries in Europe, namely England, Spain, Germany, France and Italy, but that would win them no fans in the developing football nations within the body’s jurisdiction, such as Georgia and Azerbaijan, who had planned to bid for the competition in 2020.
So long as concerns over the movement of supporters are dealt with, UEFA have every chance of hosting a successful competition worthy of celebrating 60 years of great football across the continent, but Platini and company have to negotiate a minefield of issues which could upset their grand cross-continental plans.