Friday 26 September ~
The members of UEFA are today meeting in Bordeaux. There are two main items on the agenda, inherently linked and contradictory. The first is a progress report on the ability of Poland and Ukraine to host Euro 2012. Some reports have suggested that the countries are struggling with the task of improving infrastructure, a particular UEFA concern earlier in the year. This has not been helped by recent political crisis in Ukraine. The second item up for discussion is whether to expand the European Championship to 24 teams for 2016, a proposal all at UEFA remain very keen on. But if Poland and Ukraine are struggling with a 16-team tournament, a 50 per expansion in the future can only cause much greater upheaval and greatly reduce the amount of countries able to acts as hosts.
It was reported that Michel Platini was worried about lack of progress in Poland and Ukraine in March this year. By July, however, UEFA, publicly at least, were cautiously optimistic: “Both UEFA and the Polish government emphasise that the next four years will require substantial effort. However, if the project continues to be managed in the same manner as in the past few months, it will be a success.” But at the start of September, destabilised by tensions in the region following the conflict between Russia and Georgia, the coalition between president Viktor Yushchenko and prime minister Yuliya Tymoshenko fell apart.
Polish FA president Michal Listkiewicz is confident this neighbouring situation will not change anything: “In two or three months everything will be OK. A political crisis can happen in any country at any time. The political situation has nothing to with our preparations.” Listkiewicz also acknowledged problems: “After the intervention by the UEFA president we have made a big step forward in the past few months. Many areas are not ready yet such as airports, hotels and internal transportation like rail and roads. But we have plenty of time.” Grigoriy Surkis, the Ukraine FA president and a UEFA executive committee member, was also confident in “following the plan designed by UEFA”.
As we stated in July there are a number of reasons why an enlargement of the Euro format is a bad idea, including fixture congestion, quality, common sense and basic maths. These problems remain. But in the light of the meeting's first discussion point it is clear that smaller countries, even joint hosts, will struggle to cope with tournament expansion, for a competition that already requires eight UEFA-approved stadiums. Advantages in economic development and geography are set to play an increasing role in the awarding of future hosting rights.
Portugal, generally acknowledged as having hosted a successful Euro 2004, has been left with a number of white elephant stadiums, and this with a 16-team tournament. Alongside a joint bid from Hungary and Croatia, Italy missed out on hosting Euro 2012. They'll be expected to bid again for 2016. As a major European nation Italy has the wealth, power and experience sought by UEFA. This is a vision of the future. While the European Union continues to expand, hosting the European Championship is getting much more difficult for all but a handful of its members, especially if increased to 24 teams.