There have been many people that have viewed the appointment of Michel Platini as the head of UEFA as a bad decision, and I can kind of see their point. The rich are getting richer and hungrier for real control over the game, and Platini’s appointment might yet cause a schism within European football that proves to be irreparable. Having said that, though, do we want a stooge for the G14 at the top of the game’s governing body? UEFA made so many concessions to the financial concerns of the bigger players during the 1990s that there was bound to be some sort of kick back, and it came yesterday morning, when they awarded the hosting of the 2012 European Championships to a joint bid from Poland and Ukraine.
The decision comes as desperately bad news for the Italians, who had been the favourites to be given it, but it can hardly be seen as unexpected, considering recent events in Italy. In Italy, the stadia are largely municipally owned, and many are in a state of considerable disrepair. The Italian FA, one rather expects, had been banking on the decision going their way in order to get councils in Italy to finally stump up some cash for regeneration. It seems now, though that this won’t be happening, and there’s a powerful for case for saying, well, why should they? In England, the supporters paid through the nose for the ground redevelopments of the early 1990s. Perhaps Italian clubs should now put their hands into their pockets and spend a bit of money on redeveloping their stadia themselves. Ultimately, the recent events in Italy (both domestic and at European matches) did for their bid. In the current climate, and with these championships only five years away, UEFA simply couldn’t, with any degree of honesty, guarantee the safety of supporters travelling there for the tournament. Under pressure from the government, the Italian FA took serious action after the incidents at matches that resulted in the death of a policeman at the Sicilian derby between Catania and Palermo, but events at the European Cup match between Roma and Manchester United underlined that the police simply cannot be trusted to act in a civilized manner, especially when faced with travelling football supporters.
We should be quietly optimistic that Poland and Ukraine can put together an excellent tournament. Their facilities are as much in need of renovation as those in Italy, and they don’t have tens of millions of Euros going into the pockets of their biggest clubs each season. These are, it has to be said, countries with a rich footballing heritage. Poland have twice made the World Cup semi-finals (in 1974 and 1982), and have been regular qualifiers for major tournaments since the World Cup started. Ukraine, reformed as a country only in 1989, took its time to find it’s identity as a football nation, but they qualified for the last World Cup and are having a good go at qualifying for the 2008 European Championships, in an extremely difficult group that contains France, Italy and an in-form Scotland. This decision could theoretically be bad news for one of those three. Ukrainian efforts to get to Austria-Switzerland next summer will now be redoubled, and it could prove to be the fillip that they need to pick up the points required to cause a major surprise. For many years, the Ukrainian national identity was swallowed up by the USSR team (of which they made up a disproportionately high quota), but they are starting to flower in their own right.
UEFA has taken a bold step, and it’s a step that many people weren’t expecting. Barely five months into his presidency, Michel Platini has arguably already left his legacy. Since the European Championship finals changed into a tournament in 1980, all of them have been played in the wealthy countries of the west. There has also never been a World Cup played in Eastern Europe either. It’s about time they had their chance to show what they can do. We should congratulate UEFA on making the right decision, and congratulate the Poles and the Ukrainians on their successful bid.