Platini pledges to help fans in Euro 2020 plans

UEFA President Michel Platini promises to make fans a priority

when deciding how to stage the 2020 European Championship in

several countries across the continent.

Platini acknowledged Friday that the project needs an

”intelligent solution” to create a 51-match schedule that avoids

”chasing fans all over Europe” to watch their teams.

”We can’t have England fans going to Lisbon and Kazakhstan and

then somewhere else,” Platini said at a media briefing the day

after his executive committee opted for the radical multinational

plan.

Platini said UEFA recognized there was a problem when only ”50

French and 70 Spaniards” came to some Euro 2012 matches.

”It was difficult to go to Poland and Ukraine,” the France

great said. ”Now the Euro is going toward the fans.”

Platini revealed that UEFA’s official fan liaison partner,

Football Supporters Europe, had been skeptical about the costs and

time burden potentially being heaped on fans.

”They were against it originally but we told them we would help

them as much as we can,” he said.

While Platini has committed UEFA to revolution in its signature

national team competition, he sought stability for its club events

– and rejected recent reports that he wanted to kill off the Europa

League in favor of an expanded Champions League.

”I said nothing of the sort,” he said, insisting his comments

that a consultation was ongoing had been twisted. ”I’m a very

democratic president. I don’t decide everything.”

Platini stressed that democracy is behind the Euro 2020 plan,

saying 52 of 53 member nations backed it. The opposition came from

Turkey, which had been favored to host the 24-team tournament alone

and even had Platini’s support earlier this year. Turkey’s bid was

complicated by Istanbul’s acceptance as a candidate to host the

2020 Olympics.

UEFA aims to choose host cities in the spring of 2014, and about

40 countries appear to be realistic bid candidates. Some smaller

Eastern European countries are expected to bid with plans for new

national stadiums of near 40,000 capacity.

”We have a blank sheet in front of us,” Platini said. ”We

never went into the details, we never discussed a number of

cities” during recent meetings with UEFA members.

One detail Platini offered was support for his own idea to stage

the semifinals and final in one city: ”I think this could be a

great party.”

Platini acknowledged UEFA had a ”huge” workload, having

avoided the easier option of choosing a wealthy football nation –

”the usual suspects,” he said – to take on the hosting costs

during an economic crisis across Europe. France will host the

expanded 24-team event in 2016.

”It was a great Euro (in Poland and Ukraine) but it was very

expensive, almost as expensive as the Olympic Games,” he said.

Still, consideration for fans was ”the first fundamental idea”

behind his original vision of the 12 or 13 nation hosting

concept.

”The fans won’t have to travel but we’re taking the matches to

the supporters in quite a number of countries,” Platini said.

Football fans have been asked to make increasing sacrifices to

follow their teams at major tournaments.

Brazilian organizers of the 2014 World Cup have been criticized

for a match schedule that sends team on long journeys around the

massive country, after rejecting FIFA’s original plan of placing

the eight groups in four regional clusters to minimize travel.

Platini also revealed that FIFA President Sepp Blatter

congratulated him on a ”marvelous idea” – although the praise

came with an apparent sting in the tail.

”He said somebody wanted to do it in Africa a few years ago and

it was Gadhafi,” Platini said of the late Libyan strongman who was

deposed from power last year. ”It was also an idea Mr. Gadhafi had

some time ago: opening the African Cup of Nations to all of

Africa.”

Platini also noted that FIFA allowed the 10-nation South

American championship to be supplemented with two guest teams, such

as Japan and Mexico.

”This is more against the spirit of the game,” he said. ”I

love and I defend what is in the interests of football competition.

Football interests maybe later lead to financial interests.”

Platini defended the maligned Europa League as a competition

that clubs from many UEFA member nations could hope to win –

”whereas the Champions League is a little bit more

restricted.”

Declaring himself as open to debate and new ideas, Platini

acknowledged ”complications” in some members’ enthusiasm for

proposals to merge national leagues.

While joining the Czech Republic and Slovakian leagues has long

been discussed, recent consultation meetings generated support for

bringing clubs from the former Yugoslavia and Soviet Union

republics together again.

Platini said that would require ”political and fiscal

regulations,” though he lamented declining interest with matches

in Skopje, Macedonia, drawing crowds of 1,000 compared to 50,000

when it was still part of Yugoslavia.