On Friday morning, UEFA will decide on which cities will host which games in the EURO 2020 tournament. Ahead of the vote, there are plenty of questions that still need to be answered though.
The Espace Hippomène is one of Geneva's best addresses. The event location in the western part of the city center is proud of putting on glamorous occasions. Mercedes uses it during the Geneva Motor Show, for example.
So, it's just the right place for Europe's governing body of football, UEFA, to sit down and decide which countries will get the right to host the games of the 2020 European Championships. Countries, you ask?
That's right: countries, plural. The tournament in six years will be the first time that the continent will host a Europe-wide EURO competition. UEFA president Michel Platini's idea will see thirteen associations host matches.
The idea took some warming to, but as everyone agreed that the 60th anniversary of the Euros was special occasion, the Europe-wide plan was soon accepted. But, how is it all meant to work? 12 European cities will host three games each and, in addition, a round of 16 or a quarterfinal match as well. One city will get the rights to host the coveted semifinals and final.
Germany votes for London
London and Munich had both applied for the right to host the latter stages of the tournament. But, behind the scenes it's been clear for weeks that Germany will not challenge London. Instead, the Bavarian city will actually be aiming for a quarterfinal and three group-stage matches. After all, Germany wants to host the entire EURO 2024 tournament four years later.
Two weeks ago, DFB General Secretary Helmut Sandrock spoke openly about these plans to German sports magazine "Sportbild". Up until now, such deals were rarely made public.
"We have spoken with the English about not trying to host the EURO 2024 and that they should support our campaign," he said. "In return we won't try to go for the 2020 finals and we will support the English in their quest to host EURO 2028."
Even if it's not on the table on Friday, the 2024 tournament could well be a big sporting year for Germany, hosting potentially both the European Championships in football, and the Summer Olympics in either Hamburg or Berlin. DFB president Wolfgang Niersbach says there shouldn't be any big competition between "football and the Olympics," in the same year.
Six and out
But in the Espace Hippomène all eyes will be on the cities that receive host status for EURO 2020. In total, 19 European associations have applied to host games, in thirteen cities. That means that six countries will miss out.
According to whisperings from the 17-strong UEFA executive committee - the people making the decision on Friday – the cities to miss out will be Jerusalem, Minsk, Sofia and Skopje. The reasons for which apparently include an uncertain political situation, not enough economic backing or poorly run campaigns.
In addition, four cities have applied from the British Isles: London, Cardiff, Glasgow and Dublin. According to the rumors it's unlikely that more than two cities will be allowed to host.
That, then, would mean that six cities would miss out. The tournament would take place in London plus another in the British Isles, as well as Brussels, Copenhagen, Budapest, Stockholm, Bucharest, Rome, Amsterdam, Bilbao and Munich. Baku and St. Petersburg are also on the list.
But against the backdrop of the conflict in the Ukraine can Russia really be given another sports event to host? At the moment the Eurpean Union is discussing a boycott of the 2018 World Cup. However, UEFA is sponsored by state gas company Gazprom, which just so happens to be Russian. In the UEFA evaluation report on page 64 the "strong financial and political support" for the St. Petersburg 2020 bid gets a mention.
Baku's new stadium
The biggest surprise will probably be Baku. The capital of Azerbaijan now has a new stadium that boasts a 70,000 capacity and cost 700 million euros ($902.01 million).
Azerbaijan wanted to host the 2016 and 2020 Olympics, as well as joint-hosting the EURO 2020 with Georgia, but that was before the idea of a pan-European championships came to the fore.
Baku now looks like a certainty to get some games though. In the aforementioned report, UEFA describes the city's bid as showing "high ambitions" and as helping to expand football's horizons. At the moment Azerbaijan is working hard on its image in European football too: currently they are the shirt sponsor's of Spanish champions Atletico Madrid and they have also announced a deal with Manchester United.
But there's no word in the UEFA report about the political situation in Baku. In the 2014 Press Freedom report from "Reporters without borders" the country sits in 160th place, behind Iraq and Belarus. In the last few months, four prominent human rights campaigners have been arrested, but UEFA simply writes in its report: "The political structure is stable." It also notes that restrictions on UEFA's advertising partners would be lifted for the duration of the tournament.
There is no doubt that some tricky decisions will have to be made by the members of the UEFA committee on Friday morning in Geneva. Luckily for them, the vote as to which city gets which games, will be done in a secret ballot.