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Swiss kick off European football bid

The President of the Swiss football association, Ralph Zloczower, with his Austrian counterpart, Beppo Mauhart

(swissinfo.ch)

The Swiss football association has formally launched its joint bid with Austria to host the 2008 European football championships, with the two countries insisting that they are ideally placed to stage the continent's biggest sporting tournament.

If successful the Swiss-Austrian bid, with a budget of SFr 5 million, would see top level international football being held in Switzerland for the first time since the 1954 World Cup finals.

New stadiums

A major argument in Switzerland's favour will be the number of new stadiums currently being built. Following last year's completion of the St Jakob Park stadium in Basel, new grounds are now under construction in Geneva and Bern, while a fourth arena in Zurich is being planned.

With these modern stadiums on the way and the backing of the Swiss and Austrian governments, football association president Ralph Zloczower told swissinfo it shouldn't matter that neither country has yet to shine on the international football stage.

"It's exactly because of the fact that we are not a great football nation that we want to develop by holding such a competition," Zloczower insisted. "We think we are ready now. We have the stadiums, the economy, the ecology and everything that is needed to be in contention."

Four rival bids

Competition to stage the 2008 tournament is already looking fierce with at least four other rival bids being prepared.

In the north of Europe, a four-nation consortium of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark has announced its desire to host the event, while Scotland has also shown interest, possibly in partnership with Wales and Ireland.

In the south, traditional enemies Greece and Turkey are considering what would be an historic joint campaign, while the Hungarians are thinking of making a solo bid after missing out, in partnership with Austria, last time around.

Centrality

If Switzerland and Austria have their way, the wide geographical spread of the various proposed venues will be a key consideration, with centrality one of the factors on the side of the Swiss-Austrian bid.

"Our slogan is 'Football's best - close to you'", points out Swiss Project leader Thomas Helbling. "We are indeed in the centre of Europe and have the possibility to invite people from all over the continent to come and to see excellent football in a region where you can chill out, relax and have a holiday."

Holidays are likely to be in short supply in the coming months for those most involved in the Swiss-Austrian bid, with the European Championships involving the sort of lengthy selection process that has become typical for modern sporting spectacles.

In December European football's governing body, UEFA, will send out application forms to all interested associations. Those applications must then be returned by July of 2002, with a final decision not due to take place until March 2003.

by Mark Ledsom, Vienna

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