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Who Wants Euro 2020?

Saturday 19th May 2012
You may have read that Scotland, the Republic of Ireland and Wales have submitted a joint bid for Euro 2020 and will compete with Turkey and Georgia to host the European Championships, barring any late bids.

These three bids may seem bizarre to the majority of people. Turkey narrowly lost out to France in the race to host Euro 2016 and it seems debatable the government could afford to bid given Istanbul's bid for the summer Olympics in the same year.

Georgia is probably best known as the home of Joseph Stalin and the closest thing it has to a footballing history is Dinamo Tbilisi, who were twice champions of the USSR and won the 1981 Cup Winners Cup but have made no impact on European football since the fall of the Soviet Union.

The Celtic nations' bid is bound to have questions posed, namely whether three countries co hosting a tournament can work. And then who will get the final.

UEFA's decision to increase the number of teams in the Championship from 16 to 24 from Euro 2016 onwards makes you wonder how many of the bids have the facilities to cope with an increase in matches. All three bids will need to either build new stadiums or carry out vast redevelopments.

UEFA have set the following new guidelines for host countries. They must have two stadiums with at least 50,000 seats, three stadiums with 40,000 seats and four stadiums with 30,000 seats.

Georgia's only stadium with a capacity of over 30,000 is Dinamo Tbilisi's home, the Boris Paichadze stadium, which seats around 53,000 and it is claimed once hosted 110,000 people when Liverpool visited for a European tie in 1979. The population of Georgia is only around 4.5 million, so even if it were to build or redevelop eight stadiums they would swiftly become white elephants. League football in Georgia, like all former Soviet republics barring Russia and the Ukraine, has suffered since the breakup of the USSR. While Georgian teams in the Soviet top flight could expect 50,000 crowds for visits of the likes of Dynamo Kiev or the major Moscow clubs, now they are grateful to get four figure crowds.

Georgia could perhaps put together a decent bid if they were to join up with its neighbours and fellow former Soviet republics such as Armenia and Azerbaijan. But the politics and history of war between Armenia and Azerbaijan make such a bid unlikely. Also, given the criticism of Ukraine's facilities and infrastructure in the lead up to Euro 2012, you'd question whether UEFA will want to return to Eastern Europe in this bid.

The 2018 World Cup in Russia, and its success off the pitch, could make or break whether any major competitions go east again for a long time. But for now don't expect to see Europe's top players in Tbilisi, Batumi or Kutaisi in 2020. One positive for Georgian football is reaching the semi finals of this year's Under-17 Euro Championships, promising a decent team come 2020.

If you thought Michel Platini was unpopular in England then in Turkey he is public enemy number one. During the voting for Euro 2016 it was he who cast the deciding vote after Turkey and France had finished on 6 votes each, so it's no surprise France were victorious. Many felt that Turkey's bid was far superior to the French, hence Platini's vote was not cast for footballing reasons.

Afterwards he made several comments that caused outrage, such as: "When there is a Turkish president, then you can host a major tournament" and "I'm happy because France has won, and I'm French — let's not forget it." Platini also introduced the French president Nicolas Sarkozy to each voting member whilst Abdullah Gul the Turkish president was not allowed to meet members of the voting committee.

Turkey, on paper, looks the strongest bid for Euro 2020. Despite recent match fixing controversies it has a strong domestic league and infrastructure. Istanbul's Ataturk stadium hosted the 2005 Champions League Final, while Fenerbahce's Şükrü Saracoğlu stadium hosted the 2009 UEFA Cup Final.

But a key stumbling point is Istanbul's bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics. In the current financial climate it seems unlikely the Turkish government can afford to host two big sporting events in the same year. One positive is Turkey's history as a tourist hotspot means the country isn't short of accommodation but the Olympic bid may mean funds that could be used for improving the infrastructure cities like Trabzon or Bursa during the Euro's would be diverted to improving facilities in Istanbul.

Turkey's recent history with regards to hooliganism is another potential sticking point. Galatasaray and Fenerbahce fans have a fearsome reputation for creating a hellish atmosphere.

Finally the Celtic bid from Republic of Ireland, Scotland and Wales has raised questions over the possibilities of three hosting nations. The 2007 Asian Cup was co-hosted by four countries, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, but they only had to host 16 teams.

Scotland currently seems to be the only country that could host two groups because it has Hampden Park, Ibrox and Parkhead plus either Murrayfield or a new/redeveloped ground in Edinburgh, Aberdeen or Dundee. Ireland has two stadiums, Croke Park and Aviva Stadium (Lansdowne Road), and given the crowd sizes in the League of Ireland it makes no sense to build a new 30,000 capacity stadium just for Euro 2020. 15 of the 16 biggest stadiums in the Republic of Ireland are GAA stadiums and their bid to be hosts Euro 2020 surely rests on the co-operation of GAA allowing them to be used as host venues. Even then the grounds may need redevelopment to become all seater grounds, for example Fitzgerald stadium in Killarney holds 43,000 people but only has 9,000 seats.

Wales also lacks stadiums, with the Millennium Stadium currently the only suitable stadium in Wales and, along with Hampden Park, is probably the main candidate for hosting the final. Recently there has been talk of Cardiff City extending their new stadium to around 35,000, which would automatically make it a suitable stadium for the Euro's but after that Swansea's Liberty stadium holds around 20,000 so would need expanding by at least another 10,000 and Wrexham's Racecourse ground (15,000) and Llanelli's Parc y Scarlets (14,000) are clearly not big enough for a major international tournament.

The real question that seems to be restricting all three bids is why UEFA decided to increase the competition to 24 teams. England, Spain, France, Italy, Germany and Russia are currently the only countries who could realistically host a 24 team tournament. The current format of 16 sides always seemed a perfect number for the championships, and it seems unlikely the quality of the tournament will be increased by an extra eight teams.
Steven Nicholson

Total articles: 6

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