A Swiss at the helm of Euro 2004

Martin Kallen has been overseeing preparations for Euro 2004. RDB

Switzerland’s Martin Kallen is the man charged with ensuring the world’s third-largest sporting event passes without a hitch.

This content was published on May 27, 2004 - 15:58

In an interview with swissinfo, he talks about the challenges he faced and his hopes for the tournament.

Kallen was handed a huge task in Portugal: 16 teams, including Switzerland, are participating in the finals of the European Championships, which will see 31 matches played in ten different stadiums.

Thousands of journalists and up to 500,000 spectators are expected to attend the games amid heightened security.

Two years ago European football’s governing body, Uefa, sent Kallen to the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, to oversee preparations for Euro 2004.

swissinfo spoke to him at his office in the city's Avenida da Republica, from where he has been directing operations.

swissinfo: What are the biggest challenges you have faced?

M.K.: Time pressure was without any doubt the most important thing. The project was behind schedule, and a day has only 24 hours.

Another major concern was security. We have worked closely with the Portuguese authorities in charge of dealing with issues related to terrorism and hooliganism.

And thirdly, it was not an easy task ensuring the different stadiums hosting the matches conformed to international standards.

When I arrived in Lisbon in 2002 construction work was still underway, and we had to keep a close eye to make sure the work was completed on time.

swissinfo: Did you have a clear picture of the task awaiting you in Portugal?

M.K.: Not really. I thought things would be much more simple to organise because of the centralised structure with the headquarters in Lisbon.

It has been a staggering task. I was lucky to have an excellent team, who have given their best. You have to be tough with yourself, and it takes a lot of persistence and a thick skin to do this job.

I see my time in Portugal as an extraordinary adventure in all aspects.

swissinfo: You are working for the Portuguese authorities but you are Swiss. How have you found this?

M.K.: It is a very important element of my job. It is an honour to be in such a position, but you have to be prepared to stay out of the limelight. These European Championships belong to Portugal.

You also have to be open-minded and be ready to accept different ways of thinking. In Portugal things are often done at the last minute; unlike in Switzerland, it is not possible to do much long-term planning.

The Portuguese are proven masters at solving the problems that arise. Over the past two years I’ve learned that everything is possible. I also had to learn to remain calm… to take the things as they come. The same is true for driving in this country: the Portuguese like to drive very, very fast.

And it is certainly worth getting to know the Portuguese people, to discover the country’s history, its landscape and its cuisine.

swissinfo: What do the Portuguese expect from Euro 2004?

M.K.: The Portuguese are proud to be staging the tournament; expectations are high and still rising. Everybody talks about Euro 2004: the media, people in the streets, in restaurants and in bars.

What’s more is that the initial criticism about the financial risks of organising such a major sports event has almost disappeared.

swissinfo: What are your hopes for the tournament?

The most important thing for me is to see good matches. We have been working towards this every minute of the day, and we all hope very much that we’ll get to witness high-quality football.

Uefa and the Portuguese Football Federation have asked me to stage the best European Championships ever. The country has done its utmost and has provided ten modern sports facilities. All that’s missing is the Portuguese lifting the trophy at the end.

But I’ll be heaving a huge sigh of relief the day after the final on July 4. Then I will have until September to wrap up my work before my team leaves Lisbon.

swissinfo: You’re a big football fan yourself. Who, in your view, are the favourites for the title?

M.K.: The 16 teams are pretty evenly matched, but I’d say France are the favourites. The Czech Republic and hosts Portugal could also go far.

As for Switzerland, I think they could cause a bit of an upset and qualify for the quarter-finals.

I’m looking forward to watching one match a day, and my heart is with Switzerland and Portugal.

swissinfo, Mathias Froidevaux

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