Euro 2020: Should everyone get slice of pie?

Al Jazeera’s Lee Wellings believes UEFA are taking a huge risk by tampering with a near-perfect Euro format.

‘If it’s not broken, don’t fix it’

I doubt that phrase was on the minds of anyone at UEFA when they changed the perfect European Championship finals format. 16 strong teams will become an unnecessary 24 in 2016.

And now they have introduced their extraordinary ‘2020 Euros across Europe’.

An idea so complicated you can’t even be sure they know how it will actually work. Tickets anyone? Travel?

The finals will spread between 10 and 15 cities, taking the quaint old tradition of hosting in one country, or two neighbouring countries, and kicking it into row z of the stands for a gap of eight years at least.

Who needs the atmosphere and build-up of drama that one host nation provides anyway?

UEFA says this idea is tailor-made for 2020, which will be the 60th anniversary of the tournament. That it is a sensible financial decision not to put the strain on the finances on one or two countries. Why have to build bespoke stadiums, airports etc which caused problems for Poland and Ukraine? That is their thinking.

Well no-one is forced to bid for European Championship football. And if England, for example, hadn’t been treated so badly in recent World Cup bids I am certain their FA would feel there is the infrastructure here to not just cope but flourish. Euro 1996 was a massive success. And remember UEFA are very likely to want the final at their favourite UEFA-friendly stadium, Wembley, which will host the 2013 Championship League final as well as last year’s.

But what a kick in the teeth for the Turkish 2020 bid, no wonder they are not happy. UEFA must have been massively underwhelmed for some reason. Perhaps if they hadn’t changed the form to 24 teams, Turkey would have looked more suitable. But it’s important to point out Turkey were the only nation to openly oppose the ‘2020 across Europe’ decision.

The idea was originally raised quietly to a lukewarm reception by a tired Michel Platini on the eve of this year’s Euro final in Kiev (I was there and the journalists were largely bemused). But it’s the national associations that have to back it, not Platini alone.

And it seems the heads of the national football associations in Europe all fancy a slice of the pie without paying to rent the pie shop.

Like most major decisions in world football it’s about finance not fans. And the national associations will always make sure their interests are best looked after. That’s why 24 teams will compete from 2016, making a mockery of the qualifying tournament, and coming close to ensuring all the major nations safely qualify. They will compete in an inferior bloated format.

There will be no shortage of bidders – large and small, established and emerging – to host games in 2020. The bidding process is likely to take a year from the Spring of 2013 to decision time in 2014.

But I do hope people aren’t overly liberal with their use of phrases like ‘potential showcase for smaller nations’. How patronising. A potential host venue in Romania or Scotland should be treated the same as one in a country that has hosted tournament games before. On merit alone.

UEFA say they will be sensible with who plays where. There will be no large journeys east to west and vice versa. Good luck organising that.

As he proposed the idea, Michel Platini has taken a large share of the criticism. But we should remember he doesn’t come into the Nyon headquarters and lay the law down any more than Sepp Blatter can do at FIFA. For all the critics there are votes, democracy.

Yet I’d have more confidence in UEFA’s decision if it wasn’t for the struggling Europa League with its absurd rule that the eight third placed teams from the Champions League enter a new competition at an advanced stage. A consolation prize for failure few want or deserve.

UEFA should be ashamed that some clubs pick reserve teams for many matches. European club competitions should never be an inconvenience. But listen to English Premier League fans mocking those who have to play on Thursday nights and you’ll know how prestigious the Europa League is in 2012.

But with this international format could UEFA’s Gianni Infantino be right – will football fans eventually realise that this is a good decision?

With 2020 across Europe, UEFA have put themselves under pressure. There will be disputes and bitterness from those overlooked. There could even conceivably be cities staging games in nations that fail to qualify.

But UEFA say it will be ‘a party across Europe’. It’s a bold decision – a risky decision sold as a ‘safe decision’. But their vision may turn out to be a great success. I hope it is.

Before Euro 2012 I claimed – and stand by it – that the Euro Championship is even harder to win than a World Cup. Partly through the quality of the football and partly because of the perfectly formed 16 team format.

It will lose its edge in 2016.

Then in 2020 like so many games in Euro Championship finals, it could go either way…

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