June 18, 2012
UEFA should stop double dipping
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency
POZNAN, POLAND - Euro 2012 has been a tale of two countries.
The moral at the end of this tale is one UEFA should take to heart -- it's time to stop awarding the European championship to two countries. And if UEFA insists on the practice, it needs to make sure the countries are a great deal more suited as partners than Poland and Ukraine.
Because this tournament might as well be held on different planets. Poland is the fun -- and for the most part happy -- side of the draw. The people have been terrific and the volunteers go out of their way to help if you need it.
While travel isn't easy, it's a great deal simpler than it is in Ukraine.
Poland is affordable. Businesses and hotels probably did bump their prices to reap a little of the honey but they didn't do it with the reckless abandon of Ukrainian establishments.
Poland gets a happy, smiley face for its effort. Ukraine, though, is a different story.
Aside from the cost and extremely difficult travel, Ukraine has operated its side of the tournament as if it was a single entity.
The atmosphere is a great deal darker on that side of the tournament. The language barrier is more severe and Ukraine made little effort to make its country more accessible to the average soccer fan.
Let's not forget those cheery border guards. The attendance in Ukraine reflects the obstacle course of problems fans face. Many fans would have loved to see some games in Ukraine, especially since that side of the draw has provided some exceptional soccer. But driving there is a day-long event, trains take more than half a day and flying is reserved for those who can afford it -- and most can't at the prices airlines are charging.
Fans are sending a message to UEFA. Rather than confront those problems, they opted to remain at home and watch the games on television.
It isn't just the fans who have stayed away, though. In previous tournaments, whether it is the World Cup or Euros, the media has descended in hordes, It was difficult to get a spot in the press area.
But at virtually every game, organizers have a stack of press tickets left over to give those who weren't originally assigned seating. Usually there are mad scrums to get one of those tickets. Which begs the question -- why didn't Poland stage this party on its own? It certainly has the stadiums. It also managed to finish enough of its infrastructure to make things workable.
Money is the probable answer but once you've fixed up stadiums for 15 games, it doesn't cost much more to play another 16 games in them.
It's ludicrous to spend so much money fixing and building stadiums and then only play three or four games in them during the tournament.
So, what's done is done. But let's not do it again. UEFA needs to take notice, especially since it appears determined to make another mistake and expand the tournament from 16 teams to 24 when it is next played in France in 2016.
It would cheapen the tournament and actually make it less attractive. The tournament only has 16 teams and that guarantees most of those teams are among the best in the world.
Every group at Euro 2012 was undecided until the last set of games. It's all highly competitive. You lose that when you expand the tournament. But this tournament is also attractive because it is compact and it is usually played in one country, so there is a possibility of getting to many games.
It is a three-week soccer party for one country. The shiny suits at UEFA far too often think tournaments like this are staged as a tribute to their organization or to honour the countries in which the games are staged.
The tournament is for the fans. Without the fans spending enormous amounts of money to attend these games, the tournament means nothing. Make things right for the fans and the success of the tournament will take care of itself. That is the moral of this story.