What you need to know:
- To give two examples: Belgium face Russia in St Petersburg in their Group “B” opener, then head to Copenhagen for a date with Denmark before returning to Russia for a final preliminary round match against Finland. That is a round trip of over 2,000km.
- Group “C” member Wales will travel far, far east to Azerbaijan for clashes with Switzerland and Turkey in Baku before taking on Italy in Rome. They will be doing close to 4,000km in flights between the west and east of Europe.
Why do nations and cities bid to host major international sports events?
I think the most overriding reason is prestige. The stature the country gains internationally makes all the trouble it goes through to host the event worthwhile.
South Africa underwent many challenges before they hosted the 2010 Fifa World Cup.
This was the first time football’s greatest spectacle visited the continent and South Africa celebrated as if they had actually won the damn cup.
African also took ownership of the 2010 tournament, considering it a continental affair and gleefully imbibing the pride that came with it.
The Olympic Games are considered the biggest sporting event in the world and major cities in the world fall all over themselves to earn the right to host the competitions.
Most keen sports followers can name all the past Olympic Games host cities from the time the first modern Games were held in the Greek capital city of Athens in 1986. I know I can.
Tokyo won the rights to stage the 2020 Olympic Games, earning the rare and envious distinction of being only the third city in the world to be chosen to host the sporting bonanza more than once in its esteemed history.
Athens hosted in 1886 and 2004, London in 1908, 1948 and 2012, and Tokyo in 1964 and hopefully 2021. No wonder Tokyo is determined to stage the delayed 2020 Games despite the fears of Covid-19.
Hosting major sporting events also gives the host country, or city for that matter, tremendous international exposure.
Tourists coming to watch the games, and investment in infrastructure is a major economic boon to the hosting country.
And you can also imagine the psychological boost the collective soul of the host nation gets, the overwhelming feel good factor of bringing the rest of the world to its soil.
That rest of the world is given a useful glimpse of the host nation, its sights and sounds. In fact, the host country bequeaths each individual edition of a major sporting event its identity, its memorable moments.
I think of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and remember the cacophonous chaos of bleating vuvuzelas; I think of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing and remember the magnificent Beijing National Stadium aka the Bird’s Nest; I think of the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations in Angola and remember the eerie contrast of imposing, shiny new stadiums and broken infrastructure frantically being rebuild, and so on.
Which brings me to my point.
What was Uefa thinking when they changed the format of their continental showpiece, the Euro Championships that kick off on Friday?
From a tournament traditionally hosted by a single nation biennially, the European football chiefs decided that the 2020 edition (held this year because of Covid-19) will be played in 11 cities spread across 11 European nations. In other words, there is no host country.
Who thought of such a format? What memories did they hope to give the world? What identity will this edition take?
Imagine attending a party where different foods and drinks are served in different rooms rather than in one hall.
You serve ugali in room one, take a helping of chicken stew in room three and dash to room 11 for sukuma wiki, and oh, salt is in room eight.
The Euro 2020 has six groups based nowhere and matches scattered all over Europe, presenting an unwieldy travel schedule for players and fans.
To give two examples: Belgium face Russia in St Petersburg in their Group “B” opener, then head to Copenhagen for a date with Denmark before returning to Russia for a final preliminary round match against Finland. That is a round trip of over 2,000km.
Group “C” member Wales will travel far, far east to Azerbaijan for clashes with Switzerland and Turkey in Baku before taking on Italy in Rome. They will be doing close to 4,000km in flights between the west and east of Europe.
Better I talk about the football on the pitch.
It is hard to pick a favourite, but the smart money has to bet on the usual suspects, Germany, Spain and France, by virtue of their pedigree.
France, the reigning world champions, and 2016 losing finalists, have the deadly goal-getter Kylian Mbappe, surrounded by a host of exceptional players, Hugo Loris, Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, Kingsley Coman, Antoine Griezmann et al. Need I say more?
Spain, the only country to have ever defended their Euro title (2012), and Germany are the most successful nations in this tournament and proven championship sides. They have won three titles apiece and appeared in 10 finals between them. Enough said.
You cannot discount reigning champions Portugal and their most capped player and all-time top scorer, Ronaldo. CR7 may be aging -- he is 36, but will want to sign off with a first ever top scorer gong at the Euros.
And here is a teaser. Heavyweights France, Portugal and Germany together with Hungary are in the so called group of death -- Group F.
What about Belgium?
Yes, they qualified with a 100 percent record from their six-nation group, scoring a whopping 40 goals for three conceded. Yes, they are ranked first in the world by Fifa, but as is so often for them at this level, they flatter to deceive.
Throw in overrated England, solid Italy, promising Netherlands, exciting Sweden, Russia and you have a spectacular Euro clash looming.
Let the games begin!