UEFA president says Euro 2020 could be held in '12 or 13' cities
Poland and Ukraine have proved that just about anyone can host the European Championship. Michel Platini is now suggesting that just about everyone can.
All at the same time.
The UEFA president revealed a radical plan for Euro 2020 on Saturday that turns the whole concept of hosting major sporting events upside down.
"This may surprise you," Platini warned, before suggesting that UEFA's showpiece tournament for national teams could be scattered among some of his organization's 53 member nations.
"We could either have one country with 12 host cities or have it in 12 or 13 cities all over Europe," he said.
UEFA had been scheduled to announce a simple timetable to bid for Euro 2020, with candidates expected to outline plans for 12 modern stadiums for 24 teams, playing a total of 51 matches over one month.
Held every four years, the European Championship is second only to the World Cup in global popularity and until 12 years ago was staged in one nation. However, three of the last four editions have been co-hosted by two countries, with Poland and Ukraine staging Euro 2012 in eight cities.
Still, the financial demands on future hosts are set to spiral with UEFA having increased the event from 16 to 24 teams starting at Euro 2016 in France.
Stadium building and renovation is merely the most obvious demand. Teams, officials, sponsors and fans must be flown in, transported around and housed. Broadcasters and journalists require ultra-modern telecommunications to serve media markets in practically every country on earth.
Responding to this challenge, as austerity measures bite across the continent, UEFA was expected to push the boundaries by encouraging a triple-hosting option. Ireland, Scotland and Wales — which don't even share a single land border — have tentatively offered that solution.
After Platini put forward his unusual proposal on Saturday, anything is possible.
The head of European football's ruling body said a decision would be taken in December or January on how to proceed with his idea. UEFA's executive committee, chaired by Platini, set May 2014 as the final deadline to decide where Euro 2020 will be played.
"It's an idea I feel really passionate about," said Platini, who scored nine goals as captain of the winning France team in 1984 when it hosted an eight-team tournament.
He added that "it will be a lot easier from a financial perspective."
The burden on host nations can be considerable, and getting even more difficult to bear during an economic crisis across much of Europe.
Poland and Ukraine had to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure, including in four cities which staged just three matches apiece.
"We won't need to build airports, especially at this moment in time when we have an economic crisis," said Platini, who has previously acknowledged unease that Ukrainian cities Kharkiv and Lviv got little attention for their money.
"We are going to have more games in the stadiums and, if we look at the investments made in stadiums for just three games, it is very expensive," he said Saturday.
Euro 2012 has also been expensive for fans, and most stadiums have seen significantly fewer than at previous tournaments.
Fans arrived largely by air — often on connecting flights via Germany and Austria — to reach the host cities. Gdansk on Poland's Baltic coast and Donetsk, near Ukraine's eastern border with Russia, are 1,800 kilometres (1,120 miles) apart.
"It's easier to go from London to Paris or Berlin, than Kharkiv to Gdansk," Platini said, to illustrate how a future multi-nation event could offer simpler, cheaper travel.
Spreading the tournament across many countries would also expand the appeal — and financial benefits — of a competition that already enjoys a huge global audience.
UEFA has predicted that a worldwide television audience of 250 million viewers will watch Spain play Italy in Sunday's final in Kyiv.
Euro 2012 has provided a good return for broadcasters in more than 200 territories who paid a combined C840 million ($1.07 billion) for media rights. They contributed 62 per cent of UEFA's total commercial revenue of C1.345 billion ($1.7 billion) for the 31-match tournament.
Platini's announcement added fresh intrigue to a Euro 2020 bidding process which, three months ago, seemed likely to be quickly awarded to Turkey without opposition after Germany pulled back from its declared interest.
Turkey was defeated by France by a 7-6 vote of UEFA executive committee members for the Euro 2016 rights, and Platini had publicly backed its chances for 2020.
However, the position was complicated by Istanbul's candidacy for the 2020 Summer Olympics which is scheduled just weeks after the football tournament. UEFA and the International Olympic Committee agree that one country cannot host both events back-to-back.
When UEFA set a May deadline for expressions of interest in hosting Euro 2020, Turkey was joined by Georgia and the triple hosting option from Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Days later, Azerbaijan teamed with the Georgians for a co-hosting bid when the IOC rejected Baku as a potential 2020 Olympics host.
Platini said that Turkey's situation was "ambiguous."
"This is a problem for the [UEFA] executive committee. We're not going to wait for a decision from the IOC," he said.
IOC members will choose their 2020 host from three official candidates — Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo — in September 2013.
Istanbul and Madrid may yet both end up as Euro 2020 hosts.