PARIS: Euro 2020 is finally underway, a year late, next week with the European Championship being presented for the first time as a pan-continental event.
Matches are played in 11 cities all over Europe, a setup that is almost certain will never be repeated, and was originally the idea of Michel Platini.
– Platini’s ‘plan’ –
It was in June 2012, just as Spain was winning the European Championship in Kiev, that Platini – then the president of UEFA – unveiled the idea of hosting the 2020 tournament in ’12 or 13 host cities’.
It was seen as a way to bring the competition to a wide range of countries, while avoiding building new stadiums or other infrastructure in one place after the complications of the performance of Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine.
Platini also sees it as a way to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the first performance of the then European Nations Cup as a four-team competition in 1960.
The Euro has since grown and expanded to eight teams, then to 16, and then to 24 for the last tournament in France in 2016.
“It may be a bit constant, but it’s a good idea,” Platini insisted in December 2012.
In 2014, a total of 13 host cities were nominated by UEFA, with London winning both the semi-finals and the final.
– The problems start –
Platini claims that a pan-European event would mean less potential problems in terms of stadium construction. At the end of 2017, Brussels, which initially awarded four matches, was removed from the list of host cities because the Belgian organizers could not build the planned new stadium in time.
When he initially pushed the idea in public, Platini also claimed that “in these days of cheap air travel, anything is possible.”
However, the growing climate crisis has led to more and more voices speaking out against the carbon footprint caused by the drafting of a European Championship in so many distant destinations.
Meanwhile, in 2015, Platini fell out of favor in the corruption scandal that plagued FIFA President Sepp Blatter and led to the Frenchman being given a long-term ban.
Postponement and complications –
Platini’s successor Alexander Ceferin left the organization of the continental-wide tournament and UEFA was forced to make the historic decision in March last year to postpone the final just three months before their planned start due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ceferin later conceded that the idea of a European Championship in stadiums spread across the continent “symbolically is a fun thing, but not an easy task for us, regardless of the pandemic.”
UEFA postponed the tournament by a year, but said it would still be officially called Euro 2020.
Organizers, however, had to accept the impossibility of playing matches in front of full stadiums, and eventually dropped two more host cities, which could not guarantee that any fans could attend.
Dublin and Bilbao, both offered for four matches, were abandoned in April. Sevilla have been named as a replacement for the latter.
The number of host cities was thus further reduced to 11, while Dublin’s games were given to London and St. Petersburg.
At least the Euro is happening, contrary to what many observers feared a year ago. But the pan-European experiment will not be repeated for the next issue, with Germany already hosted for Euro 2024.