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Sports

Is the Multi-Country Model the Future of Major Sporting Events?

EURO 2020 will play out all across Europe, is sharing the wealth the future of big international sporting events?

by Greg Groggel
Jul 18 2014, 4:15pm

Photo by Tim Groothuis/Witters Sport via USA TODAY Sports

It's finally over. After more than a month, the 2014 World Cup has come to a close. And depending on one's affinity for the beautiful game, the news will surely elicit mixed emotions. Preferences aside, Brazil's hosting of the tournament has been widely praised, despite early fears of operational chaos. That success has come a cost however-a reported record of $12 billion. Or, roughly three times the cost of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

It was an ambitious undertaking from the start: twelve host cities from across the country, stretching from the heart of the Amazon in the north, to a riverside cosmopolitan center in the far south. In the week's leading up to the tournament, the vast expanse that is Brazil became an important storyline onto itself as national teams and their supporters fretted over total distance traveled. Those fears too seemed to be mostly unfounded.

But size does matter, as they say.

Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, as measured by total land area. The next World Cup will be hosted in the largest country in the world, Russia, where President Vladimir Putin, never one to be outdone, promises to spend $20 billion for the occasion.

If one looks at recent hosts of mega sporting events a clear trend emerges. By the time Putin's 2018 World Cup rolls around, the world's top five largest countries (Russia, China, USA, Canada and Brazil) will have counted two Summer Olympics, three Winter Olympics, two World Cups, and three Women's World Cups since the start of the 21st century alone.

The simple fact is that these events represent an enormous burden for smaller countries and communities. Aberrations do exist, of course, from sentimental selections (2004 Athens Olympics) to those of more clandestine provenance (2022 Qatar World Cup). And yet, smaller sites have been pushed to the sidelines as the financial and political stakes have racketed up.

It doesn't have to be that way.

Looming on the horizon is the 2020 European Championship, a historic occasion that was born mostly out of incompetence.

Turkey was the clear favorite to host the 60th anniversary of the quadrennial soccer tournament after receiving UEFA President Michel Platini's public support. Platini's endorsement was so enthusiastic that other countries withdrew their bids given the unlikely prospects. Ultimately, Turkey's case was ruined by Istanbul's insistence on bidding for the 2020 Olympics simultaneously. UEFA, turned off by Turkey's ability to host both events, opted for a drastically different route.

With few options left, Platini announced plans for an historic pan-Europe tournament of 13 host cities in 13 different countries, a stark departure from the single or joint host precedent.

The reaction across Europe was mixed, sometimes within the same news article. The BBC lamented that the format would "deny fans the chance to soak up the culture of host countries and rob hosts of the international focus and tourism benefits," but also acknowledged, "it's maybe not such a bad idea."

The grand experiment isn't maybe as grand as it might seem. At Euro 2012, jointly hosted by Ukraine and Poland, the largest distance between venues was an epic one thousand miles. That's more than Dublin to Munich, Copenhagen to Rome, or London to Budapest - all cities currently bidding to be part of Euro 2020.

And while viewers will receive less of the destination portrait pieces that tend to dominate foreign television broadcasts, the real winners will be the fans. Supporters will have the opportunity to see games in bigger stadiums that are more accessible in terms of ease of travel and cost.

Meanwhile, the Olympics have also struggled to find hosts as the colossal event has grown in scale. Just last week the International Olympic Committee announced the only three remaining candidates to host the 2022 Winter Olympics after a rash of public rejections forced several cities to withdrawal their bid.

A regional, pan-country Olympics, in the model of Euro 2020, is far from being even a figment of the IOC's imagination. The first, more realistic step would be for two neighboring countries to share the burden and spoils as co-hosts. According to the Olympic charter, however, such bids are not valid. Only a single city may be allowed to host the Summer Olympics, and only under exceptional cases will it authorize the holding of winter events in a bordering country.

What this means is that smaller market cities, such as Munich, which hosted in 1972, are now no longer capable of facilitating an event of such staggering size.

"It is time to change the rules," says Wilfred Spronk, the former director of the Olympic Park in Munich. "My opinion is, a region, not a country, a region must be the host. If you build such big events in one city, you have no chance to manage under economic auspices."

Similarly, countries like Belarus, Scotland, Romania and Azerbaijan all would have no chance to host a European Championship alone, but now, under the guise of the Euro 2020 experiment, each is a finalist with a very real chance to serve as one of the 13 hosts. The solution exists.

The next decade will be a crucial time in the history of mega events.

International sports federations can continue to award the occasion to only the biggest countries in the world (or those with the deepest pockets). Or, they can further experiment and adapt to the globalized world in which they exist. Time will tell.