Often, football chairmen and owners who make seemingly impersonal decisions that fans can’t relate to are denigrated because they never played the game at the highest level themselves, and aren’t what the media would call “football men” who know what they are doing. Michel Platini is doing his best to turn this debate on its head by showing that even a former Ballon D’or winner and the top European Championships scorer of all time can decisions so utterly ill-judged and out of step with the average football fan that Roman Abramovich suddenly looks like a man of the people.
UEFA have seemingly been underwhelmed by the standard of bidding countries for the Euro 2020 process. An initial deadline of 15th May 2012 was met only by three bidders – Turkey, Georgia / Azerbaijan, and a Celtic Nations bid from Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. The absence of many of the traditional powerhouses of Europe prompted UEFA to blatantly gerrymander the process and change the rules mid-stream, extending the bidding deadline by a year, presumably in order to coax a larger nation to bid for hosting rights. No further candidate has come forward, however, and UEFA’s President has taken a dramatic step.
Platini’s plan is to throw away 70 years of footballing history by doing away with the concept of having a host country, or countries, for the European Championship tournament in 2020. Instead, his draft plan will see games hosted in cities all over Europe. While the full details of his plan have not yet been established, there have been suggestions that the twelve highest seeded teams in the tournament could serve as hosts for the group stage matches, and for quarter finals, before the semi-final and final would be hosted by a 13th neutral city.
The problems with this position are myriad and wide ranging – it almost seems ridiculous to detail why the idea is a bad one, as it never should have gotten off the ground.
- Unfair advantage to host countries
The twelve ‘seeded’ teams will presumably host matches in the group stage.This will institutionalise the advantages that big nations have over small nations, creating a relatively shock free tournament. Fans from smaller nations will either not get the same allocation of tickets, or be able to take them up. Many would argue that seeding through the qualification process, through the playoffs, and then through the draw itself is unfair enough. Going one step further
International tournaments are supposed to be neutral.
- No atmosphere, no heart, no centre.
With each country hosting at most four matches in the course of the entire tournament and games very feasibly spread as far and wide as London, Moscow, Belgrade, and Lisbon, the tournament will have no collective centre or heart to it.
One of the defining elements of international tournaments has been the ‘fan parks’ at the centre of squares and town centres. Reducing the tournament concept to just a collection of games between teams will utterly destroy the carnival atmosphere. It seems utterly bizarre that UEFA should see emulation of the Champions League as a desirable end point for International football right as fans everywhere are growing weary of the Champions League format.
An international tournament is supposed to be a showcase for a country, a coming out party. Consider the symbolism of the World Cup in South Africa in 2010, or the misty-eyed memories many people have of Euro 1996 in England. Now eliminate those memories and replace them with a bland, champions league style tournament. A football tournament is supposed to capture a moment in time in people’s lives.
- Travel Chaos
Travelling for the group stages will be difficult enough. Say for example, Ireland qualify for the tournament, and their two seeded teams in their group are Russia and Italy, and the other unseeded team is Bulgaria. They presumably have to play games in Moscow and in Rome – and who knows where they have to play their third and final group match against Bulgaria? Where do they set up training camp? Do they travel from Moscow, to Rome, to a third location on a never ending road trip? Or do they fly back to Dublin immediately after matches and set up base there?
But it’s when the tournament hits the knockout stages that things really get complicated. Going into the last game of the group, it is often the case that not one team will know their fate for certain. So using the above Scenario, let’s say the Group winners are going to play their knockout game in Lisbon, and the runners-up are going to play their game in Amsterdam. Planes and flights effectively have to be on standby to travel from Russia, Ireland, Italy, and Bulgaria to both Amsterdam and Lisbon while the sporting scenarios are played out. This same scenario will be taking place all over Europe as all the other groups are sorted out. There is typically only at most 6 days between the last group game for a team and their first knockout game. It will be a disaster.
Furthermore, football tournaments are expensive enough for fans when they are held in one country – asking fans to pay for travel not only to Moscow, but to Rome as well, and then on to a third country, and then perhaps a fourth and fifth if you progress further on zero notice is completely impractical and will result in low numbers of travelling fans, which means low tourist revenues, which means the tournament will be a financial failure as well as a cultural failure.
It does feel as though another huge part of our footballing heritage is about to be trampled, and as football fans, we are obligated to oppose this abysmal idea. Fundamentally, however, UEFA are as corrupt, incompetent, and as arrogant as FIFA, and judging by their decisions regarding tournaments in the last year (giving a World Cup to racism and corruption riddled Russia, and a country with no footballing pedigree in the middle of the scorching desert in Qatar) resistance against Platini’s monstrosity may well be futile.wwwwwwwww