UEFA president Michel Platini confirmed what most people had suspected would happen by announcing a radical overhaul of the European Championships format. No longer will one or in recent cases two countries host the four-week long, now 24 team tournament but instead thirteen countries will take on smaller hosting duties, in an effort to minimize costs. The first Championships that will be affected won’t be until 2020, with the announcement of the host cities not set to happen until September 2014. Twelve packages will be awarded to a stadium staging three group matches and one match in the knockout rounds. The remaining package will see the host of the final and one of the semi finals named. Platini’s plan is to encourage smaller nations ,who may only have one or two stadiums large enough to meet UEFA’s international competition hosting standards, to take part whereas they haven’t been able to do so in the fast. Whilst it doesn’t mean automatic qualification to the tournament (Platini’s plan has no one automatically qualifying), it is hoped to help generate extra revenue to smaller nations that have struggled in the past.
The financial arguments around this change have been strong – reduction in one country having to spend big on improved stadia, infrastructure and accommodation, reduced risk on UEFA having to bail out a country or find an expensive last-minute replacement, plus potential reduced costs for teams as games will be played in countries closer to their own, if not indeed their own. Fans will be relived to hear UEFA promise to ease the time and cost burdens on them as well by organising the group stages to within a two-hour flight radius. However what they haven’t considered is what , will happen after the group stages. Take for the example a Danish fan who follows his team at home in two of the three group stages whilst travelling to Germany for the third. Cost should be restrictive, unless Denmark qualify for the knockout stages. If they are played in Spain and England, Danish fans will be faced with a last-minute scramble to find flights and accommodation in those two cities. Added in to this, if Denmark manage to go all the way to the final, as they did in 1992, it could see Danish fans travelling across 4 countries in less than 2 weeks at a cost which most fans will be unable to afford. Platini’s belief is that by hosting the games in major cities, they will all be served by low-cost airlines which is true but unlikely to stop said airlines from hiking up their prices in the summer during the tournament. Added into this, with the inability to control hotel pricing in 13 countries, fans could be faced with a very hefty bill.
The media will also lose out. Whilst logistical organization for a place like Ukraine and Poland (the last hosts) was a bit of a nightmare for most media outlets, trying to organise coverage over 13 countries may be slightly worse. It is unlikely that a company like the BBC will have studios in every one so they will pick one (probably England if they are chosen as one of the hosts) and operate field operations for the other 12. Coverage will likely rely on a multitude of media networks working together, sharing resources, feeds and equipment which poses its own problems.
Each host city will need to have a stadium that can hold a minimum of 50,000 people, with the final to be played in a 70,000 seater stadium, however UEFA has confirmed that it will pick at least two cities that only have a 30,000 people stadium to make it fairer on the smaller nations. With 20 of the 53 nations in UEFA possessing a 50,000 seater stadium, it makes sense to lower the threshold to 30,000 to increase the options available. Turkey, who pitched to host the 2020 tournament outright before the decision was made, look favourite to be named as one of the 13 cities and indeed is Platini’s choice to host the Final and Semi-finals, as long as they are not hosting the Olympics in the same year. For the ambitious Turks, who wanted both tournaments, choosing between hosting two games in the European championships and the entire Olympic games, shouldn’t be a difficult decision. Turkey will likely pick the Olympics if they are rewarded it and forego the Euro’s, at least for 2020. The timing of UEFA’s announcement of the chosen hosts in September 2014, ties directly into the decision on the 2020 Olympics which is likely to be announced before then, with Istanbul joining Madrid and Tokyo in the running.
Whoever the selection board decides to pick as host is irrelevant at this stage as Platini eyes the future of the UEFA’s prize international tournament. Change is happening, whether countries, fans or the media like it but it may not be the only tournament that changes in the next five years. With Sepp Blatter’s colourful tenure as FIFA president due to end in 2015, Platini will be looking at football’s top job and in turn its biggest event, the World Cup. Platini is likely to use the 2020 European Championship as an experiment to see if everything works before making the change permanent or reverting back to the previous one country model. If it is successful and he does secure the FIFA hot seat as expected then changes to the World Cup may take place, with Platini already showing his flexibility for his when talking about moving the Qatar 2022 World Cup to the winter to accommodate the countries extreme summer heat. What Platini has is time however to analyse and assess his next move. His focus until the announcement of the hosts in 2014 will be on the next European Championships in 2016, ironically to be held in Platini’s homeland, France. Fans too will be looking forward to the tournament as it could be the last of its kind for a very long time, especially if Platini gets his way.