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December 7, 2012
As the readers of this blog know well, the FREE project has decided to organise eight different events in eight different European cities. It seems that Michel Platini and the UEFA executive committee have taken inspiration on this scheme of intelligent decentralisation. For the sixtieth anniversary of Henri Delaunay’s invention, the Euro will not be hosted in one single country (as in 1996 and 2004), or two neighbouring ones (as in 2000, 2008 or 2012), but all across Europe in 12 or more different cities.
True enough, with 24 participating teams the whole thing is somewhat larger than the FREE project, which only counts 9. And while our consortium’s travel budget is well provided for by the European Commission’s generous support, the potential fans of Euro2020 already started to complain in internet forums and football chat rooms about the distances when Michel Platini started to float the idea at the end of June.
But that’s not really an argument. At Euro2012 you could possibly travel from Poznan to Donezk and cover a distance of approximately 2000 km, which is significantly longer than Milan-Madrid or Manchester-Munich (without even mentioning the distances to be covered in FIFA’s next World Cup host nations Brazil and Russia…). Moreover, Europe is, after all, the paradise of budget airlines and high-speed trains, which football fans already extensively use during regular Champions League seasons.
There will be lots of spontaneous criticism all over the web: UEFA takes the magic out of the championship, the show-case effect for host nations will be lost, the atmosphere will go down the drain, etc. etc. But these objections are mainly due to the online zeitgeist of permanent distrust in governance institutions and elite-bashing by principle.
As a matter of fact, the idea is excellent, especially in terms of sustainability. Europe already has a wonderful infrastructure of football stadia all over the place – why charge a future host nation to build oversized arenas (and hotel capacities) in peripheral cities without regular tenant that may have little use for them after the tournament and remain heavy liabilities on the home cities’ tight budgets. Or does anyone believe that Lviv (2012), Klagenfurt (2008) or Leiria (2004) will be, over the coming seasons, home to many exciting football highlights with packed terraces? ‘Play the Game’ has made the absurdity of such buildings very clear in their World Stadium Index, and Gosia Kowalska also asks interesting questions about the long-term legacy and legitimacy of mega-events.
Of course, one can easily understand that the Turkish federation is disappointed (and was the only one to vote against the project yesterday). This was to be their Euro, finally. On the other hand, the UEFA decision will perhaps give their simultaneous Olympic bid more credibility and increase its chances. And, who knows, maybe UEFA will be elegant enough to schedule the semi-finals and the final in Istanbul. This would not only be a nice nostalgic reminder of the initial format of the Euro tournament before it was blown up to 8, 16 and now 24 participants, but also a rather appropriate symbolic gesture with a championship played out all over Europe and converging for the final showdown in Turkey.
One way or another, UEFA deserves credit to have the courage to leave well-trodden paths and switch from a logic of mega-events to one of a ‘multi-event’. The European Championship will thus become an embodiment of the oft-quoted motto ‘Unity in Diversity’. UEFA claims it will be an exception, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it became the rule.