It may come to be known as the Platini Bombshell. The suggestion from the UEFA president, that the 2020 European Championship could be played in “12 or 13 countries” across Europe, took everybody by surprise yesterday.
It was by no means a throwaway remark by Platini at yesterday’s press conference. He made a point of interrupting his general secretary Gianni Infantino to make the announcement. He later went further, hinting it could even be “24 or 32 countries”.
It remains to be seen how serious Platini is, or rather how seriously his colleagues and advisors will take such a radical proposal. Much more will be become apparent in the coming months.
For Platini to drop his bombshell during a high-profile, eve-of-final press conference suggests he wants, at the very least, a debate to take place
The cynic in me thinks Platini may have taken a leaf from the book of his old mentor Sepp Blatter. The FIFA president likes to feed the media scraps to put them off the scent of a story. Platini will have gone into yesterday’s press conference fearing that goal-line technology would dominate the agenda. His alternative system of goal-line officials has been exposed to ridicule during Euro 2012. Certainly, today’s headlines suggest Platini has steered the media agenda away from goal-line technology. Mission accomplished for Platini, perhaps?
His 2020 comments were immediately ridiculed in the Twittersphere. He’s been drinking too much vodka, he’s trying to out-Blatter Blatter etc. But ignore the doubters for a minute, suspend your cynicism. Is there any merit in Platini’s 2020 proposal?
On one level, at least, it makes some sense, as it would avoid the problems UEFA has experienced with Poland and Ukraine. Preparations for Euro 2012 were a nightmare in so many respects, from the construction of stadiums, to poor travel infrastructure and a lack of hotels. It was especially so after the smooth-run tournament on their doorstep in Austria and Switzerland in 2008.
Privately, UEFA officials concede that, 18 months ago, they were on the verge of taking the tournament away from Ukraine. Only the very real prospect of losing the finals forced the Ukraine government into action.
If UEFA were to deal with venues in 12 – or more – countries, they would effectively be dealing with host cities, rather than host countries. They could choose established stadiums in major European cities with adequate accommodation and travel infrastructures in place. There would be no concerns about half-built stadiums, unfinished transport links or corrupt government officials. UEFA could deal with host cities in the same way it deals with its annual European cup final hosts.
But, and it’s a big but. The commonsense option would be to choose stadiums in established western European cities: Paris, Madrid, Milan, London, Munich. Yet the political realities of UEFA’s 53-strong membership would mean decisions being taken to satisfy the demands of UEFA members across the continent. And that, inevitably would mean less established cities – Donetsk, for example – bidding for host status.
And that is where the problems would start.
The difficulties that we have experienced in Ukraine and, to a lesser extent, Poland, over the past few weeks would be multiplied 10-fold. And the losers would be, you guessed it, the fans.
Platini’s response when questioned about the cost of flying between venues in a 12-nation tournament was instructive. “There are low-cost airlines,” he said.
Those were the words of a man who has spent too much time on a private jet during Euro 2012. And not enough time with fans on 15-hour overnight train journeys.
Maybe Platini is preparing people for the prospect of multi-country hosting, such the mooted “Celtic” bid from Scotland, Wales and Ireland.
The reality of an expanded, 24-team Euros is that no single country outside of the established nations of Western Europe – England, Germany, France, Italy, Spain – can entertain any hopes of hosting the tournament on its own. Multi-hosting will be the norm. So maybe Platini is preparing us for that prospect by raising the more extreme option of multi multi-hosting.
Euro 2012 has been a wonderful tournament, especially if you have watched on TV (and have not had to endure the extensive travelling). With the exception of the Republic of Ireland, every team have shown qualities that place them in the top tier of European football.
Platini was at pains to point out that quality teams are missing from Euro 2012 but could make it in 2016 with the new, expanded format. However, apart from Belgium, I’m struggling to think of any others. Platini mentioned Scotland, Serbia and Norway; I’m not convinced.
In Poland and Ukraine we’ve seen some terrific football, played in a great spirit – ironically, in part thanks to the additional goal-line officials, who have performed a major role in helping to eliminate diving and fabrication.
Savour Euro 2012 while you can. There will not be another tournament like it.