Sport fans look forward to big year
The year ahead will no doubt be that of the Swiss sport fan, with two major events in store and the further pursuit of excellence by some remarkable athletes.
Switzerland will host with Austria one of the planet's biggest sporting competitions, the European football championships, while the Beijing Olympics, Roger Federer and the Alinghi syndicate will be more than entertaining sideshows.
Euro 2008 will be one of the biggest events ever organised on Swiss soil, and could generate more media coverage than the World Economic Forum summit in Davos or the regularly occurring Middle East peace conferences.
Billions of people are expected to follow the month-long tournament on television, giving the country unprecedented exposure to a much wider audience than usual, and showing the world that Switzerland is more than cheese, chocolate and watches.
Anticipation has been rising ahead of Euro 2008. An official countdown was even launched on June 7, one year exactly before the start of play.
Most Swiss are looking forward to hosting the championships, according to a recent survey released by the Federal Sport Office. Nine out of ten of those polled considered the tournament the most important event of 2008.
More than eight out of ten had a positive opinion of the event, and slightly more believe it will be a sporting success. There is generally less optimism about the chances of the Swiss side, since the team has suffered a number of setbacks recently.
People are also doubtful about the likely economic benefits of the competition, even though it is expected to boost business with extra revenue of SFr1.5 billion ($1.33 billion) and the creation of 6,000 jobs.
Until now, security, alongside noise and the cost for the taxpayer, has been the main Euro 2008 concern in Switzerland - rather than football.
In September, sports fans will turn their eyes eastwards to the summer Olympics in Beijing. Swiss athletes are still battling to win selection to the Chinese games, and the national Olympic association requires them to show that they have the potential for a top-ten finish.
Representatives of Swiss Olympic have been impressed by the preparations in China. The biggest concerns voiced by the athletes' representatives have been the pollution factor and long distances between the Olympic villages.
One athlete targeting gold in Beijing will be Swiss tennis star Roger Federer. Despite dominating his sport over the past few years, he failed to win at either the Sydney or Athens Olympics.
Reigning tennis champion
The world number one will also be looking to extend his reign over the world's courts. Despite signs last year that he wasn't all-powerful, he did manage to win three Grand slam tournaments – the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open – as well as the season-ending Masters tournament.
Federer will want to win the one major tournament to elude him so far, the French Open. For the past two years, Spain's Rafael Nadal has stopped the Swiss in the final on the Roland-Garros clay.
Federer will have another goal in 2008: to become the Grand Slam record holder. He needs just two more wins to equal American Pete Sampras.
The year could be more complicated than anticipated for the Swiss America's Cup holder, Alinghi.
If a New York judge confirms an earlier decision that rule changes to the competition proposed by the defender were unfair, the syndicate would then have to compete in a catamaran duel with a boat from the Golden Gate Yacht Club in 2008.
The next America's Cup was supposed to have been held in Valencia, Spain in 2009, but the ongoing legal wrangling over the rules meant the organisers postponed it indefinitely.
Co-hosts Switzerland and Austria qualified automatically for the tournament, which takes place from June 7-29, 2008.
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). The final will be held in Vienna on June 29. Switzerland will play its three qualifying matches in Basel.
The finals will be broadcast in 170 countries and are expected to be watched by up to ten billion television viewers.
Up to 5.4 million football fans are expected to follow the tournament in Switzerland, including 1.4 million from abroad.
European football's governing body, Uefa, says it has received eight million requests for the 1.05 million tickets that have gone on sale.
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