The Host With The Most: Euro 2012
One week from today in Cardiff, UEFA's executive committee will announce the venue for the 2012 European Championships. Three bids for the hosting rights are on the table: one is from Italy while the other two are joint bids - one from Poland and Ukraine, the other from Croatia and Hungary.
Italy are the favourites to win having secured the most votes in the previous round of UEFA's selection process. It was after the first round of voting that the bids from Greece and Turkey were rejected to leave the final three, but what is it that makes Italy the hosts elect out of those that remain?
Well to begin, Italy are the most experienced at organising major football events. They were the host country when the second World Cup Finals were held in 1934, and again in 1990. They've also held the European Championship Finals back in 1968 and 1980, so the organisational aspect to a venture such as this is one that Italy can comfortably deal with.
The other two pairings have no such experience, with the exception of Croatia who, as part of Yugoslavia, hosted one of the European Championship semi-finals in 1976.
Then there's the stadia. Italy have put forward eight stadia with a further four held in reserve should UEFA decide to expand the Finals to 24 teams from the current 16 (as is being suggested by various associations).
The stadia selected by the Italians are essentially the same as those used for the 1990 World Cup. Florence, Bari, Rome, Milan, Udine, Verona, Cagliari, Bologna and Genoa would undergo refurbishment while three new arenas would be built in Palermo, Naples and Turin.
The Polish and Ukrainian bid will focus on ten stadia - six in Poland, four in Ukraine - but seven of them are brand new venues and building work is due to be completed between 2007 and 2010. The average capacity of all ten stadia will be somewhere in the region of around 46,000 (compared to 52,000 for the Italian sites).
Like the other two contenders, Hungary and Croatia are also using a mixture of new and renovated stadia but capacity details are somewhat sketchy. What is known is that the successful bid would see the opening match played at Zagreb's Maksimir Stadium and the Final played in Budapest.
So the stadia side is all much of a muchness (although admittedly the Italians have the least work to do to reach the required standards. What of the other factors like transportation links and nearby accommodation for all the travelling supporters? Here's where the joint bids slip a little.
Italy seemingly have little to worry about. Only last year they made a wonderful job of looking after spectators from all over the world when the Winter Olympics took place in Turin. Go back to 1990 again, and you'll see evidence of another perfectly executed competition when the World Cup rolled into town. Transport links were excellent and hotel venues were plentiful in both cases.
Sadly the UEFA delegation weren't so impressed on their trip to Poland and Ukraine. They openly complained about the quality of the road between two of the venues, Gdansk and Lviv, while in Hungary and Croatia the lack of decent accommodation was a slight concern. That said, venues like Budapest and Zagreb have already benefited as profitable tourist destinations and a prosperous economy should ensure there are funds available to spend on any required improvements.
So do the two outsider bids stand any chance at all of hosting such a big event? Well the Hungarians and Croatians seem to think so. They feel they deserve the chance to host Euro 2012 because Italy have hosted the big tournaments so often before. They say that while Croatian football is currently riding high, Hungarian football is in need of a boost. Add to that the fact that Hungary have been all but overlooked since they were one of the best teams in the world in the 1950's, it's not hard to see why the slogan 'Give us the chance' is so prominent in their campaign.
The Ukraine and Poland can point even more towards a dire need to develop the game in their respective countries. They also suggest that a big competition such as the European Championships rarely finds itself so far east in Europe which in itself makes for a compelling argument.
The pair also proudly boast their organisation of various big recent sporting events, namely the Ski Jumping World Cup, the 2001 Volleyball World League Final and a callisthenics championship. Perhaps not much of a boast on reflection, then...
So is it just a formality for the Italian campaign team to turn up in Cardiff next week and be given the hosting rights? Perhaps not. There are some notable weaknesses which could prove to be a metaphoric banana skin as UEFA surveys the available options.
Last year, Italian football was left reeling after a match-fixing scandal that resulted in Juventus being relegated to Serie B and Lazio being withdrawn from this season's UEFA Cup. In February this year, a police officer was killed after the match between Catania and Palermo as violence between opposing spectators escalated to new levels.
And yet even those factors may not derail the Italian campaign. They have the pedigree, the experience, the infrastructure and the organisational skills to win the big prize, but will UEFA rule with their hearts rather than their heads in making their decision? If they're to acknowledge the fact that its group of nations stretches east beyond the German-Italian frontier, surely now would be the best time to give one of the joint bids a chance.
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