Spurred on by Glasgow’s successful bid to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games, the Scottish Football Association is now looking at hosting the 2016 European Championships. The road to hosting a major tournament, however, is seldom a smooth one, and Scotland seems likely to have major difficulties in being able to persuade UEFA that this is going to something that they can do. The major problem that Scotland has is a lack of suitable stadia, though, and it’s likely that they are going to have to apply to co-host the competition with Wales. Even then, though, whether they will be able to fulfil UEFA’s criteria is open to question.
UEFA currently requires a nation hosting the European Championships to have eight venues with a capacity of 30,000 or more. By 2016, though, there will be twenty-four competing teams rather than the current sixteen, meaning that the hosting nation(s) will require an absolute minimum of ten stadia, with twelve being more likely to be required. It would be a tall order for many countries in Europe to be able to fit this bill without considerable building work having to take place, and whether this can be done in Scotland and Wales is doubtful.
Let’s take a look at the potential venues that a combined Scottish and Welsh bid could bring to the table. The two countries have four venues already in place, which would require no further work – Hampden Park, Celtic Park, Ibrox and the Milllenium Stadium. In addition to these four, it’s likely that Murrayfield, the Scottish rugby stadium could be pressed into use. In addition to this five, it would be possible to expand the new Cardiff City stadium (current capacity 25,000) and The Liberty Stadium in Swansea (current capacity 20,000) to bring them up to scratch. To get up to the bare minimum that UEFA would require, they would probably have to redevelop Easter Road or Tynecastle in Edinburgh, Pittodrie in Aberdeen and the new rugby stadium in Llanelli or maybe even Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground making up the numbers to the bare minimum of ten.
The problems with a proposed bid like this are numerous and self-evident. Firstly, UEFA and FIFA tend to allow one city in a competition to have two venues, with the remainder all being played in different cities. Under this proposal, three of them (Celtic Park, Hampden Park and Ibrox) would be in Glasgow, with two each in Edinburgh (Murrayfield and Easter Road or Tynecastle) and Cardiff. Even if UEFA were to allow this, the other redevelopment work would be expensive and, in the broader scheme of things, unnecessary. The likelihood of, say, Pittodrie needing a capacity of 30,000 on a long-term basis is remote to say the least (the current average home crowd at Aberdeen is 11,500), and Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground would need to almost double in size from its current capacity of 15,500 with a non-league club currently using it whose average home crowds seldom rise much above 4,000.
There are also other infrastructural problems with the bid. Scotland and Wales, of course, don’t border each other, meaning that there would be a big, north of England-shaped gap between the two proposed host nations. In addition to this, access routes between Glasgow and Edinburgh are notoriously bad, both by road and rail. These transport links would require considerable redevelopment if half of the tournament venues are to be in these two cities. With the world still likely to be counting the cost of the current global financial difficulties in three or four years’ time (when building work would have to start), could countries the size of Scotland and Wales afford such a high cost, or would the British government be expected to cover this cost?
The danger for the SFA and the FAW is that a joint bid could result in a number of expensive white elephants being built that there is no chance of ever being filled again. They need to think very carefully about the possible costs of holding such a tournament. There are also still lingering doubts over how successful Ukraine and Poland’s (wholly admirable in principle) hosting of the 2012 tournament will be, and this may well prejudice UEFA’s thinking when they come to consider applications for the 2016 tournament. The unfortunate truth of the matter is that, with UEFA expanding the European Championships from sixteen to twenty-four nations (and the rights and wrongs of that are an altogether different matter), Scotland and Wales may be eight years too late with their application.