OPINION: How A Continent-Wide Tournament Makes Sense for EUFA

Posted: December 7, 2012 in Opinion, Portugal
Tags: , , ,

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UEFA‘s announcement that the 2020 European Championships would be played across the continent rather than in host nations was met with condemnation from fans and media alike. Many fans feel that they will have to travel long distances to see their team play. However, it feels like many are not seeing the broader picture and the overall benefits to the game.

UEFA  president  Michel Platini has confirmed that the tournament will be played across 13 cities. In one scenario, fans in a particular national team would have to travel back and forth across long distances to see their team play. Platini, however has made it clear that this would be taken into account during scheduling.

It is very likely that that each group will play their games in cities within a close proximity to one another. Each group can be assigned to a particular country or even region of the continent. Europe’s great transit network would be buzzing throughout the entire tournament.  Germany, France, England and others have enough world-class stadiums to accommodate games with little travel needed. Also, group games could be played with a network of cities that transcend borders. Some examples might be Lisbon-Porto-Madrid or Liverpool-Manchester-Cardiff or even Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam.

Plus, games will be played in every corner of the continent from the United Kingdom, to the Iberian Peninsula, to Moscow, hence bringing the games closer to the fans rather than a dozen host cities.

Another great advantage would be the cost of staging the events. Most recently, Poland and the Ukraine built several new stadiums to host the tournament. With weak domestic leagues, it is very difficult to see whether these stadiums will draw new fans to domestic games or become seldom-used ‘white-elephants’ like many Olympic Stadiums around the globe.

A great example is Portugal, who hosted the tournament in 2004. The government committed a lot of money to stadiums in the two urban regions of Lisbon and Porto which serve the historic big three of Portuguese futebol, i.e. Porto, Benfica and Sporting. But outside these urban centres, the story is very different.

New stadiums were built in provincial towns like Leiria (Pop. 120,000)  and Aveiro (Pop. 70,000) whose league teams draw small audiences. Uniao de Leiria stopped being able to afford the rent in its new stadium and eventually fell into financial trouble. It is currently trying to reinvent its self in the third division. Aveiro’s club Beira-Mar only averages about 5,000 fans a game also and seems destined to follow the same path.

It has become too expensive to host these tournaments. As upset as many fans are about this new arrangement, it is difficult to ask the citizens of a cash-strapped continent to bare the cost of a sporting event that rarely benefits tax-payers. Therefore, a European-wide tournament makes sense. 

Finally, this new arrangement will eliminate the automatic qualification of the host country and hence improve the competitiveness of the competition as a whole.  Poland and Ukraine did not exactly play scintillating futebol. They looked rather over their heads, perhaps due to not having played a competitive game in two years.

Regardless of results, these tournaments are supposed to be for the fans. Platini’s announcement this week both improved the quality of futebol on the pitch, as well as brought the fans closer to the game. For me, that is all that counts!

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