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Volume 10 No. 24

International Football

UEFA's decision to host Euro 2020 across the continent rather than in one or two host nations "has been greeted with enthusiasm as countries battle the crippling financial crisis," according to Tom Pilcher of REUTERS. European Club Association boss and Bayern Munich CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was "upbeat about the move given the dire effects of the euro zone financial crisis across the continent." Rummenigge said, "At this time of a united Europe, I consider this to be a good decision. At a time of a euro crisis one or two countries should not be forced to invest in infrastructure projects but instead existing structures should be used." Portuguese Football Federation (FPF) President Fernando Gomes "praised the idea" and said that he "hoped UEFA would take Portugal into consideration for hosting matches given that they already had infrastructure in place after Euro 2004." Gomes said, "We congratulate them on the idea. In a period of great financial difficulties there is no doubt that this idea is welcome." England and Scotland "have expressed interest in hosting matches," with the FA proposing Wembley Stadium in London as a potential venue for the final, though they will face competition from Scotland. Arsenal Manager Arsene Wenger described UEFA's bold plan as "creative" and said that he was not against it but did have "some doubts." Wenger said, "The advantage is that the whole of Europe would be concerned by the championship" (REUTERS, 12/7). In London, Ashling O'Connor noted UEFA President Michel Platini's vision has been dubbed "Euro for Europe." Despite Platini's home country hosting the larger tournament in '16, he said he felt "passionately" about the idea of sharing the burden. In France, where the tournament will take place across 10 cities, "there are already concerns about the progress of new or refurbished grounds." Platini also wants smaller countries, that could not otherwise afford to host the month-long tournament, "to have a share of the spotlight" (LONDON TIMES, 12/7).

GATHERING SUPPORT: The PA's Martyn Ziegler noted UEFA had held talks with fan group Football Supporters Europe and convinced it that the "zany" format of holding games in 13 matches across Europe would benefit the majority of supporters. Platini said, "We have some decisions to make now -- some political, some geographical -- for example we cannot have an English fan going to Lisbon, Kazakhstan and Sweden. We will have an intelligent solution -- not chasing the fans all over Europe" (PA, 12/7). The AP's Graham Dunbar noted Platini acknowledged the project needs an "intelligent solution" to create a 51-match schedule that avoids "chasing fans all over Europe" to watch their teams. Platini said UEFA recognized there was a problem when only "50 French and 70 Spaniards" came to some Euro 2012 matches. Platini: "It was difficult to go to Poland and Ukraine. Now the Euro is going toward the fans" (AP, 12/7).

SPONSORS ON BOARD: REUTERS' Keith Weir noted European football sponsors adidas and Carlsberg "have applauded UEFA's decision to spread Euro 2020 across the continent, and the format is likely to appeal to other major int'l brands." Industry experts said that the change from having just one or two host nations "risked reducing the buzz that distinguishes events such as World Cups and Olympics," but football's commercial appeal was "strong enough to withstand that." Adidas said in a statement: "We see a lot of potential in UEFA's plans for Euro 2020." Carlsberg, which has sponsored the tournament since '88, "was also positive." The Danish brewer said: "We are aware of these plans for the 2020 Championship and think they look interesting." Broadcasters "are also believed to be reasonably comfortable with the arrangement," although the host cities will not be finalized until early '14. European Sponsorship Association Chair Karen Earl said that the "beauty of the new format for sponsors was that they would reach more of their major markets." Earl said, "Getting your message across the whole of Europe is more attractive, it's more effective." She pointed out that sponsors "would probably have to have bigger budgets to launch advertising campaigns across multiple markets" (REUTERS, 12/7).

In London, Oliver Kay wrote "if there was a sense that UEFA had really thought this out, weighing up the pros and cons, carefully considering the impact on the competition and the interests of the spectators, it would be possible to look first of all for the potential benefits" of the new format. However, "unfortunately there is not." Platini "and his friends, both at UEFA and FIFA, lost the right to the benefit of the doubt long ago." Football "is not a consideration here, neither, it sadly goes without saying, are the supporters." To expect fans "to traipse from one country to another," perhaps from Madrid to Stockholm to Kiev to London, to support their team "is simply too much." But UEFA, like FIFA, "is not interested in the die-hard fans" (LONDON TIMES, 12/7). Also in London, Des Kelly wrote "the EasyJet 2020 European Championship has a certain ring to it," but "don't scoff." The plan is "already at the departure gate." Platini "has helped himself to Duty Free, and he is now wheeling his latest idiotic idea through the Nothing To Declare But My Greed channel at airports across Europe." The new UEFA scheme "is to take what is widely regarded as a fantastic int'l tournament of concentrated excellence and dismantle it; ruining the format by scattering Euro 2020 games throughout the continent, having already diluted the quality for the '16 tournament by increasing the number of competing nations from 16 to 24" (DAILY MAIL, 12/7).

In London, James Riach noted Football Supporters Europe revealed that 82% of fans "have rejected UEFA's plan." The FSE represents more than three million supporters and received 1,200 responses to its survey that revealed "an overwhelming majority are steadfastly against" Platini's idea. It said: "This reluctance came from individual fans who follow their national team as well as from big national fan organisations, who support their teams at qualifiers and big tournaments and represent several hundreds of thousands of football supporters" (GUARDIAN, 12/7). Also in London, Sam Wallace wrote UEFA may try to present the new format "as a ground-breaking, inclusive idea, but it was born of just another cock-up." The problem is that attending int'l tournaments, even those in Europe, "is starting to be as grandiose and expensive as attending the America's Cup." How can a pan-European championship "even be called a tournament when it lacks the flavour of one or two host nations?" There are "plenty of capable single-host nations." Platini, "for reasons best known to himself," chose to spread out the tournament "and increase the cost for the ordinary fan" (INDEPENDENT, 12/6).

EPL West Ham co-Owner David Gold has told fans he is ready to explore the possibility of incorporating a "safe standing" area at London's Olympic Stadium, according to Matt Fortune of the London DAILY MAIL. To a question posed by Twitter user @Jamie_Seagrave, asking if safe standing could be used, Gold responded: "I do hope so." The Premier League and successive governments have also "opposed any changes" regarding standing areas to the Football Spectators Act 1989, inacted after the Hillsborough disaster, which saw 96 Liverpool supporters die in the Leppings Lane end of Sheffield Wednesday’s stadium. In October, Aston Villa became the first Premier League club to publicly back a new campaign for trials of standing areas for fans in top-flight and Championship League matches. The campaign has been launched by the Football Supporters' Federation and Birmingham MP Roger Godsiff. Aston Villa and Peterborough have both given support to calls for the government to allow "small-scale trials of safe standing areas." Responding directly to the FSF campaign, a Premier League spokesperson "dismissed the idea." The spokesperson said, "The police, safety officers and licensing authorities remain clear on this issue and have consistently informed us that crowd management has improved as a result of all-seater stadia being in place in the top two divisions in this country. We will not be encouraging the government to change the law." Daily Mail sports writer Adam Shergold wrote that his recent visit to Hamburg convinced him safe standing should be allowed. Shergold: "I've been a big advocate of Safe Standing for many years and a recent trip to Germany confirmed my belief that it's the way forward here too. In contrast to the top divisions in England, Safe Standing areas are the norm in every Bundesliga stadium and have been for a number of years." He continued, "Unlike the vast, dangerous terraces of yesteryear, the Safe Standing areas are ticketed to control numbers, and fans can stand behind retractable barriers. At Hamburg, there were also tall fences separating 'blocks' to prevent everyone rushing to the middle" (DAILY MAIL, 12/7).

UEFA President Michel Platini said that the organization has "no other choice" than to accept the Gibraltar FA into its ranks as a member with full voting rights because the Court of Arbitration for Sport has said that they must. Platini said, "We're obliged to include Gibraltar because that is what the Court of Arbitration for Sport is asking us to do. For that reason, we'll have to ask the Congress in London to accept the decision" (MARCA, 12/8). ... Chinese second-tier football club Fujian Smart Hero was purchased by Yongchang Real Estate Company in Hebei province. The club is "expected to play" its games in the province's capital Shijiazhuang. The new owners "want to see" the team in the first-tier Chinese Super League next season (WILD EAST FOOTBALL, 12/7).