Football Goes More in Europe than in Schengen, the EU, EEA or Eurozone
The 2016 European Football Championship has a special significance because it is probably the last edition of this competition which takes place in a single country. This is because of the 2020 experiment which will see the tournament unfold in 13 host cities, distributed throughout Europe. If this formula is successful, it will be applied to future editions.
So, the entire paradigm of this competition will change. If, in the past, football used to highlight, every 4 years, the organizing country, illustrating its specifics, henceforth the whole continent will turn into a huge football country.
France, between party and war
While watching the Romanian National team play, I had the opportunity to experience the European Championship on the spot in Paris. I found the French capital more inter-culturally diverse than ever before, at the boundary between a party and a war.
On the one hand, Paris excitedly celebrated the “feast” of football, the variety of fans and the related show. At all the sights, subways, bars and cafes you would meet groups of fans wearing the same colour t-shirts, painted faces and a very jovial nature. Locals would greet them with pleasure, applauding them or even capturing digital mementos with them.
On the other hand, Paris is marked by internal unrest, strikes and demonstrations and is under the spectre of attacks. The sight of Special Forces personnel with machine guns visible at every street corner may not be the reassuring sight officials thought it would. Interestingly, social tensions and debates on the labour code apparently concern the French more than the fear of terrorists, if the media content is to be believed.
However, through a very good organization with an impressive number of contributors leaving no aspect of the event to chance (tourism, sports, security), France both managed and mitigated its challenging internal affairs honourably. It is worth noting that every city in which matches were held had information hubs for fans near the railway stations, airports or downtown. There, you could find a city guide in several languages, and a map with the main tourist attractions, as well as the routes to the stadium. Also, to ensure a normal flow of fans, trains and buses would leave every 5 minutes towards the stadium from 4-5 landmarks in the city. And these arrangements were mirrored on the way back. Beyond the elements of civilization and comfort, France excelled at the underlying organizational acumen required to facilitate for participants their enjoyment, celebration and experience of the games.
More football, more show
Not incidentally, if we consider the history of emulation, social implications and economic underpinnings it has acquired over time, Euro 2016 is the first edition with 24 teams at the start, which means nearly half of the 53 member countries of UEFA.
Indeed, the European Championship began as a rather elitist competition, only the top four national teams of the continent attending the first 5 editions (1960-1976). The number of teams present at the great tournament doubled in the next 4 editions (1980-1992). Due to the emergence of a growing number of countries after the dissolution of the USSR, of Yugoslavia and of Czechoslovakia, and the increasing number of members affiliated to UEFA, this brought the EURO to 16 teams starting with the 1996 edition and until 2012. This year, the competition has become a populous gathering, bringing together 6 times more teams than the first edition.
Thus, the gathering of European football every four years is imbued with more energy and arouses more interest not in spite of, but because of the fact that it reunites more than just the most important countries, in a political and economic sense, of Europe. In this way, the competition is opened to countries and fans that had not experienced the opportunity of experiencing the joy of participating in the great celebration of European football.
The performance at this tournament by the debutantes, Albania, Northern Ireland, Wales and Iceland, argue in favour of the new competitive format. When fans of a country with less than 3 million inhabitants, like Albania, come to "invade" the city of Lyon and the players make them feel at home in a stadium of nearly 60.000 seats, there is a gain not only in sportsmanship, but in the quantity of competition. When the national team of a country with 330.000 inhabitants such as Iceland, where 20 years ago football was practiced only 3 months a year, surpasses England, the representative of the richest football tournament in the world, we gain in quality for the competition.
More football, more business
Compared to the previous edition, there are 8 more teams present, 20 extra matches and an increase of more than a million fans, based on the estimated 2.5 million fans for this competition. And these are not the only parameters that have significantly contributed to the level of the EURO 2016. The idea to install multiple massive TVs in the famous "fan zones" in cities participating in the event virtually multiplied the tournament, offering the experience of the match to a much larger number of spectators than the one given by the stadium capacity.
Evidently, all of these are accompanied by an increase in spending on the part of fans and the subsequent financial gain to the host country. Organizers estimated, in this respect, that this, the largest European Championship to date, will generate revenue of about 2 billion euros, 1.4 billion more than the edition hosted by Poland and Ukraine. For UEFA, this year's edition means total revenues 43% higher than in 2012, from TV rights, sponsorships and ticket sales.
It can be said therefore that the democratization of the European Championship responds to the global momentum, supported by the development of technology, communication and, not least, transport, in an era where geographical space is compressed and different cultures interact. Also, this has implications for the continental identity, football being a vector for overcoming not only historical divides, but also political differences and socio-economic disparities. In other words, the message the competition will impose this year shows that the real Europe is not that of a currency or a union, but of football, where the "Schengen Area" is replaced by the venues where supporters meet, the so-called "fan zone" fostering expressions of freedom and the continental spirit.