THIS summer in London, the Olympics put on absolutely its best face.
Athletes smiled and cried and totted up, without boasting, hundreds of lonely, cold, 5am training sessions and always remembered to thank the fanstastic crowds who’d carried them over the finish line. A nation which had wondered if it had fallen out of love with the Games, which had cringed at the thought of them being naff or chaotic or duller than Atlanta, was bereft when they were over. Small children wept (mine included) “four years is too long, it’s for ever!”
This unapologetic football nut dutifully switched to Sky Sports 37 for his first live game of the new season – Peterhead vs Rangers – and sighed: “Sorry, but I’m just not ready for this.”
The Olympics needed 2012 to be great so it put in the hard work, both on and off the track, and got its reward. Contrast that with football and the finals of the big international tournaments. Football thinks it can do anything to the World Cup and the European Championships and we’ll always watch. They’ve been dragged round the planet to some improbable settings and fattened up with extra teams, some of whom only finished a poor third in their qualifying groups. So far we’ve continued to watch.
But are you ready for a World Cup in Qatar? And are you ready for the European Championships that aren’t really anywhere, in fact are everywhere?
Michel Platini, below, has decided that the 2020 Euros should be a continent-wide affair. Mindful of the current economic crisis, he says the tournament would be be too big a burden for one or two host countries. He proposes that “ten, 12, 15” nations could share the responsibility (you can tell he’s thought this through). And he’s keen that smaller nations who could never afford the event get a piece of the action, including Romania, Hungary and that other mob, ah yes, Scotland.
Now, there are one or two reasonable sentiments in there but I suggest this is madder than Qatar 2022, madder even than the plan for the 1994 World Cup in America that matches would be divided into quarters.
No matter what you think of the World Cup being in Qatar – and I still can’t decide which would be the more surreal, the finals in winter or midnight kick-offs under roofs – the tournament will have an identity, however strange, all of its own and will never leave the host country (wherever that is).
Lots of people thought 1994 would be strange but the US of A did a pretty slick job, Diana Ross’s penalty howler apart. And you could almost make an (admittedly flimsy) case for the quartering idea on identity grounds, given how America chops up its indigenous sports.
But the pan-European plan for 2020 will surely deny that competition some key intangibles, maybe even a heart and soul.
Platini admits that few countries can afford to host a 24-team competition but, of course, the Euros shouldn’t be a 24-team competition. As a 16-team affair, it was small and perfectly formed. You could count on a high standard from the very first match and, in special years, it was all killer, no filler.
In absolutely solid-gold classic years, it was only an eight-team tournament, such as 1984 when France, inspired by one M. Platini, took part in the greatest-ever Euros game, beating Portugal 3-2 en route to winning the whole thing.
Sometimes even the World Cup, expanded from 16 teams to 24, seems too big. Every single season the bloated Champions League is definitely too big, with too many dull, inconsequential matches played out in half-empty stadiums.
As Sir Alex Ferguson, whose Manchester United could afford to lose their last two games and still progress as group winners, put it the other night: “This tournament doesn’t really start until February.”
So it’s a shame that the the Euros are going the same way, with France having the dubious honour of staging the first 24-team competition, before in 2020 they go. . . well, who can say where exactly? Certainly not Platini.
Still, we should try to find the positives. If no one country is acting as hosts then our broadcasters cannot descend with their hundreds of staff to capture the “local colour” with contrived novelty guff and football pundits cannot be sent to do a man’s job like foreign correspondent.