By Saf Hossain
I don’t know exactly why, but the heads of football’s most prominent organisations – FIFA’s Sepp Blatter and UEFA’s Michel Platini, respectively – often give the air of a deranged, despotic dictator, bursting at the seams with outspoken controversy and just waiting for a popular revolt to remove them from power.
Whereas Blatter will be remembered for his infamous comments about the women’s’ game, former French captain Platini recently made two much less sexist but equally baffling remarks in the same press conference. Firstly, Monsieur Platini does not believe in goal-line technology, so expect to see the continuation of the much-lauded ‘additional assistant’ referees that played such an important role at Euro 2012. The other, being the forward-thinking man that Michel is, was the suggestion of a European Championships in 2020 departing from the ‘destination’ format towards a continental tournament in “12 or 13 cities”.
If it sounds positively loopy as an idea, how would it possibly work in reality?
Turkey must surely be indignant about Platini’s change in stance. The 2016 Championships were lost on a vote of 7-6 to France, with UEFA’s head honcho making no secret of his wish for a tournoi francais after Poland & Ukraine (funny, that). Given that Turkey was the only serious candidate prior to the flotation of this pan-European idea, it’s almost as if the UEFA President doesn’t want them to have the tournament.
However, Platini’s reservations this time could have more to do with Istanbul’s candidacy to host the 2020 Olympic Games (there can only be one, not both) – and quite possibly a little bit to do with the Turkish FA’s corruption challenges at present. If it sounds like the pan-European proposal is just a contingency in the event that Istanbul gets the Games (of which there’s a strong possibility), Platini claims that UEFA will “discuss it very seriously – it’s an idea I (Platini) feel really passionate about”.
The logic behind having a tournament in several major cities is that a city like Rome or Madrid will already have the necessary infrastructure in place. This removes the burden building several new stadiums and infrastructure projects off the shoulders of the host country – remember, Europe’s financial position is precarious at best. As in Russia, the largest country ever be awarded the FIFA World Cup, teams would be assigned to clusters of nearby cities (.e.g. Berlin and Prague). A tournament staged in this way could even allow for fans to see cities such as Budapest and Zagreb, which wouldn’t usually get a sniff for hosting duties.
But what about the fans – will it still be possible to follow their team all across Europe? You can almost feel the gallic shrug as Mr Platini simply says, “there are budget airlines”, as if he’s telling you and I to ‘deal with it’.
It should be pointed out that some countries in Europe have the facilities and infrastructure in place to stage a tournament tomorrow. One would hope that England, Germany or Spain express an interest, not only because most requirements are in place but also because they each enjoy a thriving football culture. Speaking of which, Turkey has a fervent soccer fanbase too, and is currently undergoing a large phase of development.
There are also plenty of technical problems with the Platini proposal: who qualifies as a home team? Do all countries hosting qualify automatically? Do qualified teams get drawn in their own cities? A key ingredient to a tournament – more than fans would like to admit – is the corporate aspect of the ‘experience’. Europe isn’t quite as homogenised as people realise and the difficulty of extending advertising, branding etc. across the entire continent would require a monumental logistical effort.
With a distinctly compact World Cup to be held in Qatar in ’22, comparing it to the extreme opposite in the Euro’s could set a precedent for all major international tournaments following. Is it logistical lunacy, or perhaps ushering and era of Eurozone-counscious sensibility? I think we ought to concentrate on getting goal-line technology and financial fair play right first, Mr Platini.
This piece was written by Saf Hossain. You can follow him on Twitter @SafayetH. What is your opinion on Platini’s proposal? Comments below please.