UEFA not forced into Euro 2020 plan – Infantino

UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino has maintained that the organisation was not forced into adopting its novel hosting concept for Euro 2020, as European football’s governing body unveiled plans for stiff new anti-racism sanctions at the Soccerex European Forum.

The idea to spread Euro 2020 across Europe was first suggested by UEFA president Michel Platini in June 2012 after a lukewarm response to the governing body’s deadline of May for expressions of interest in hosting the tournament. The ‘Euro for Europe’ vision foresees that matches will be split into 13 different packages, with 12 ordinary packages including three group matches and one knockout round (round of 16 or quarter-finals), and one package for the semi-finals and the final. Speaking on Wednesday, Infantino said: “We were not forced into this position. We could have easily found bidders to host Euro 2020.” Each national association will be allowed to present up to two bids, one for the ordinary package and one for the semi-finals/final, with a final decision over hosts expected in September 2014. Commenting on ongoing concerns over the potential financial impact of the plan on fans, Infantino said: “This is not good news for supporters, it’s fantastic news. The Euro will now go to fans of 13 countries. It will be much less expensive for fans. Teams who qualify will play at least two matches at home. Each group will have two host cities with two flight hours between them.”

UEFA’s Euro 2020 plans have not gained universal favour, with FIFA president Sepp Blatter last month criticising the proposal to host the tournament across multiple cities on the continent as removing the “heart and soul” of the competition. Responding to Blatter’s criticism, Infantino said: “Fifty-two out of 53 national associations voted in favour and this means that it certainly cannot be wrong.” UEFA’s Euro 2020 hosting concept comes as the organisation seeks to place greater emphasis on national team football. France’s hosting of Euro 2016 will see the tournament expand from 16 to 24 teams for the first time. The expansion has come amid criticism that the quality of football could be diluted, but Infantino maintained that there is “no danger” of the Euros losing its “specialness”, adding that eight teams, including Serbia and Turkey, were very close to qualifying for Euro 2012.

Meanwhile, Infantino detailed plans for harsh new punishments for racism offences. Under UEFA’s plans, player found guilty would be banned for a minimum of 10 matches, while clubs and national teams would be hit with a partial closure of their stadium for a first offence. Infantino said it is “time to send out a strong message,” adding: “We have to have sanctions and they must have a deterrent effect and what we are proposing is if a player or official is convicted of racism they should receive a 10-match suspension at least. If supporters at a club are found guilty of racist abuse, the first sanction will be a partial closure of the part of the stadium from which the racist abuse took place. For a second offence, there will be the full closure and a minimum fine of Eur50,000.” The regulations are set to be in place from the start of next season.