The Sorry Tale of Euro 2020

UEFA President Michel PlatiniWell would you believe it? I’m in a state of shock. Michel Platini has outdone himself once more.

The rumour had been circulating for some time, so it came as little surprise, but the announcement this week that Euro 2020 would be spread around the continent, with numerous host cities was met with a predictable (and mostly justified) outcry. Platini first mooted the idea in June, and UEFA’s executive committee yesterday passed the proposal.

And let’s be clear, this was a situation all of Platini’s making. The idea of a tournament spread around Europe is not some wonderful ideal that Platini has always wanted to implement, but the result of an utter botch job that has left him backed into a corner.

The Frenchman had pushed Turkey out of the way to ensure his own country got to host the Euro 2016 tournament. Strange that many seemed to know the result as to who would host Euro 2106 before it was announced, strange that Platini should respond to questions over the decision with the comment, “when there is a Turkish president, then you can host a major tournament.”

This shouldn’t surprise us of course, or even shock us. If you think there is no corruption in awarding major tournaments, no greasing of palms, then you probably also believe in the tooth fairy, or that next year is “definitely Liverpool’s year”.

But Platini needed to make amends to Turkey. His solution to this awkward impasse was to kill the 2020 bidding process after it had barely begun, by backing Turkey for Euro 2020. Two problems though. This caused virtually all the other potential bidders to pull out – after all, what was the point of a multi-million pound bidding process when Platini had pretty much decided how the decision would go? The bigger problem though was Turkey itself. The country with the Olympic ideal within its own constitution decided it wanted the Olympics the same year, and the Olympics trumps the Euro finals. They could have both of course, but getting the Olympics would dilute their interest in hosting another tournament, and anyway, Platini couldn’t have his own precious tournament outshone in the country it was being hosted.

So the result was having no host at all. After all, many countries would have been put off anyway by the ridiculous costs of such an enterprise anyway – the transport costs, the redevelopment of airports, stadia, facilities, and the millions wasted on accommodating Platini and his cohorts in the best hotels money can buy.

So this is the solution. Everyone can have it. And don’t worry, because air travel is cheap nowadays, and there is no chance at all the fares will mysteriously treble in price for travel to the host cities during the event (#sarcasm). As any follower of a team in European competition, the idea of cheap international air travel for football matches is a myth. It’s easy for Platini to claim cheap air travel will be available whilst he flies round in private jets, but none of us know what the situation will be in eight years’ time anyway.

That’s not to say that the plan for 2020 is totally unworkable. Huge single countries have held tournaments before, requiring extensive travel between venues. Also, many fans will stick to one city, and what’s more, multiple venues will allow fans to attend that wouldn’t otherwise have been able to. Weeks of endless travelling will mostly be a problem only for those poor journalists for whom travel will be paid for by others. The logistics have not been revealed yet – when they do, we’ll have a better idea of how practical all this will be for fans. And inflated airplane prices may be harder to implement when fans are flying from all over the continent to multiple venues. And no one country will have to spend billions to please UEFA and their strict criteria, probably bankrupting themselves in the process and leaving themselves with endless stadiums falling slowly into disrepair. Legacies from international tournaments can be wonderful, but there are plenty of horror stories too.

But whatever the pros and cons, this wasn’t arranged with fans in mind, it wasn’t originally planned at all. The fact that this will be a one-off is a tacit admission of that. Saddest of all to me is that the distribution of games across a continent removes one of the main benefits of an international tournament. These competitions are a celebration of the host country, a chance to experience their culture and their traditions. It denies hosts the chance of international focus, to boost its infrastructure and to gain tourism revenue. All that will be gone in 2020. In one foul swoop, Platini has destroyed one of the central tenets of a football tournament – the atmosphere created by the congregation of various cultures and nationalities in one country, with a common passion. What next? A football tournament in a desert?

Platini’s meddling hasn’t begun here of course. This will be a tournament, like that in France, of 24 teams, diluting the quality of the finals further. More games, more money. Eventually there will be a 39th Premier League game played in Abu Dhabi, and the award of Euro 2060 to Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon (Michel Platini Jr particularly impressed with Ganymede’s excellent transport links between the planet’s 67 moons).

But this is the future. The format of the European Championships has changed many times in the past, and it will now change again. Platini will trumpet this new format despite it being a format borne out of desperation. And the fans will attend in their millions, and hand over their hard-earned money. We’ll moan, we’ll decry, we’ll throw our hands in the air. And we’ll keep going to football matches, wherever they are.

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