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Geneva exploits football potential

There's no mistaking that football is coming to Geneva Reuters

Geneva is determined to impress the thousands of football fans it will be hosting during the Euro 2008 championship next month.

This content was published on May 9, 2008 - 15:34

Officials responsible for the organisation of the matches in the city say there will be a holiday atmosphere and visitors will be welcomed with open arms.

Geneva is the venue for three of the matches of the tournament, which runs from June 7 to 29 and is being hosted jointly by Switzerland and Austria.

A giant football has been "balanced" over the city's famous Jet d'Eau since April 24. The eye-catching ball, 15 metres in diameter and inflated with helium, floats 150 meters above the surface of the lake, and is lit up at night. It is the most visible symbol of the efforts the city is making in honour of the tournament.

Other events to be held during the three weeks of the championship include numerous concerts, while the city's main ice rink will be transformed into a huge discotheque. For those who prefer the theatre, there will be performances of a Czech play "Klapzuba's Eleven", based on a popular comic novel with a football theme.

Shoppers have not been forgotten: the normally strict opening hours are being extended, and even include two hours on one of the Sundays - June 15.

But officials are about to announce a series of further festive events to take place throughout the championships.

"The idea is to make people want to come back to the area," Mark Müller, who is in charge of the canton's Euro 2008 cultural programme, explained to a press conference.

The Geneva tourism office is offering training courses for anyone likely to come into contact with football fans, such as people working in hotels and restaurants, shopkeepers, taxi drivers and policemen.

A lack of enthusiasm

This local awareness campaign is being backed up by a national effort from the Swiss tourist board encouraging everyone to smile at the many visitors expected to come to the country for the championships.

"If Geneva manages to give them a warm welcome, visitors will go away with the image of a friendly people. They will want to return to the region," said Muller.

However, Genevans have a reputation for complaining. So far they have shown little enthusiasm for the football feast. Few of them have been prepared to let rooms to spectators coming to watch matches being held in the city.

Michael Kleiner, who is overall Euro 2008 coordinator for the canton, says security issues were top of the agenda in the first sessions of an awareness course for professionals dealing with the influx of visitors.

"We had to get them to realise just how important the event is, whether in terms of the number of visitors expected – tens of thousands – or of the impact of Euro 2008 worldwide," he told swissinfo.

A first for the city

Geneva may be an international city accustomed to hosting conferences and other events of global importance, but it has never before been involved in the very special world of international sport.

The reverberations of this new experience are likely to be felt long after the fans have left.

"Organising this event has brought together around the same table actors from areas who are not used to working with each other, like transport and security officials, and figures from business and politics," Kleiner explained.

One result is a football stadium capable of hosting major events, including concerts, and a city able to cater to the needs of thousands of football fans for three weeks.

But organisers face one important problem. The International Labour Organisation has refused to move its annual meeting in Geneva. It will be held at the same time as Euro 08 and participants will occupy a large proportion of the hotel beds in the area.

It is by no means certain that the 3,000 spaces at the camping site put aside for football fans will be sufficient.

swissinfo, based on a story in French by Frédéric Burnand, Geneva

Euro 2008

Switzerland will co-host the Euro 2008 football tournament together with Austria from June 7-29.

The 31 games will be played in four cities in Switzerland (Basel, Bern, Geneva and Zurich) and four cities in Austria (Innsbruck, Klagenfurt, Salzburg and Vienna).

Geneva is the venue of three matches: Portugal - Turkey on June 7, Czech Republic - Portugal on June 11 and Turkey - Czech Republic on June 15.

Up to 5.4 million football fans are expected to follow the tournament in Switzerland, including 1.4 million from abroad.

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