The Swiss city of Lausanne is better known for being the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee (‘IOC’), but this mini-metropolis – the smallest city in the world to have a full-scale metro system – was the location for an historic decision taken by the executive committee of another international sporting organisation, UEFA, on 6th December 2012: the finals of the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship will be spread over 13 cities continent-wide, rather than (as has been traditional) being played out in a single country or pair or nations.
While the official reason given for this choice is the 60th anniversary of the tournament, UEFA’s position appears to have been prompted by the lack of interest shown by most of its members in hosting the finals. Prior to 6th December 2012, not a single one- or two-country bid had been received from Western Europe, with the expansion of the finals tournament to a purportedly financially-draining 24 teams – Euro 2012 was the last finals to feature four groups of 16 teams – widely blamed for this development.
However, it seems incredible that a full seven-and-a-half years before Euro 2020 is due to commence, UEFA did not show a bit more vision and energy in trying to retain the regular hosting format. As well as a three-nation bid from the Celtic nations – unpromising from a logistical perspective, as well as potentially risky given the UK and Ireland’s ghostly economic indicators – Turkey (host of the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup) and resource-rich Azerbaijan (host to this year’s U-17 World Cup for women; the Azeris united with Georgia for the purposes of Euro 2020) submitted palatable applications. Additionally, the fact that UEFA did not seem to consider inviting a united Germany – which has never hosted a European Championship finals – or capacious, booming Kazakhstan to put their names forward signals capitulation in the face of receding economic horizons for many European countries.
The charms of having a continental finals over a narrowly-defined geographical area are legion: each championship has its own particular flavour, with host nations often benefitting for decades afterwards from new or improved sporting and transportation infrastructure. To jettison this in favour of 13 thinly-spread mini-tournaments resembles the writing-off of Europe by an organisation that has in modern times done more than most to promote it.