Platini Might be Right to Abolish Euro Host Nations

The streets of Kiev and Krakow are littered with pieces of coloured tape, Irish fans’ comedy banners and the shreds of Holland’s dignity. Yes, the clean-up following the end of Euro 2012 continues. But does it need to be this way?

Poles and Ukranians probably didn’t appreciate the timing of Michel Platini’s proposal that future European football championships might not have a ‘host nation’ – coming as it did while they were currently filling that role. Furthermore, his refusal to back goal-line technology doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in his leadership. Still, the proposal deserves serious consideration.

Platini’s idea is that the Euros could be held in a number of locations across the continent – anything from 12 to 32 venues – rather than in just one country or two neighbouring countries. Although France is confirmed as the host of Euro 2016, the proposal could be implemented from 2020 onwards.

The costs involved in staging an internal tournament are staggering. The combined bill for Ukraine and Poland to stage Euro 2012 has been estimated to be £25 billion. While UEFA and their commercial partners would have us believe that most of the money comes from sponsorship, the truth is that taxpayers foot the majority of the bill.

Often hosts cities and nations have to build a number of brand new sporting venues; supporting infrastructure such as airports, roads and public transport also has to be built or significantly upgraded.  Then there is the cost of looking after a huge number of often rowdy visitors, with extra burdens on the local police, health services, and so on.

Of course there is rarely any shortage of places wanting to host these events, so there must be some benefits.  Those international visitors can boost the economy, although they may conversely persuade other non-sport tourists to stay away while the event is on. The investment in infrastructure will have long-term benefits for locals, although that money could have been spent anyway.

The venues always cause the most contention. Building new stadiums built for major events can ensure a legacy of world class facilities that have sustainable uses for many years afterwards. But they are just as likely to be under-used. For instance, Manchester’s 2002 Commonwealth Games stadium thrives as the expanding home of Premier League winners Manchester City – providing a handy revenue stream for the local council. On the other hand South Africa has a much greater challenge to make its stadiums built for the 2010 World Cup cost-effective: for example the capacity of the rebuilt Green Point stadium in Cape Town was trebled for the event, leaving home club Ajax Cape Town with a much bigger stadium than they could possibly need afterwards.

One less tangible benefit, and perhaps the strongest motivator for host cities and nations, is the unique branding opportunity these major events provide.  For instance the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona (despite leaving a host of empty venues behind) are remembered for ushering in a period of strong growth in tourism: its culture was beamed around the world and ever since the world has been visiting to see it first-hand.  But this can also backfire.  Ahead of Euro 2012, Ukraine faced criticism for its questionable human rights record and its alleged problems with racism among football fans – being a host nation guaranteed continent-wide coverage of these issues.

Platini’s proposal, therefore, offers the prospect of spreading the pain out among multiple locations. On a positive note, it would also allow more countries to benefit from the international exposure these events can bring. Many smaller nations and cities would be happy to share the spotlight with other nations – in these isles alone the likes of Dublin, Edinburgh and Cardiff spring to mind – knowing they don’t have the resources to host the event on their own.

With the Euros growing to 24 competitors from 2016, there will be six groups of four teams in the first round. Why not stage each group in a different country? It would involve no more hassle for the fans than the current system, as travelling would be kept to a minimum. The twelve matches of the second round and quarters could be shared between three or four hosts, again making sure that fans can either stay in the same country or another one nearby as their team progresses.

The semis and the final – by which point most of the fans have gone home anyway – could be staged in a single country, perhaps even in one stadium. The prospect of hosting those games would be enough to satisfy any prestige-hungry government or football governing body, just as they all want to stage the Champions League final in club football.