THREE-WAY BID FOR EURO 2020
Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland have formally declared an interest in jointly hosting Euro 2020, as the Celtic nations bid to challenge Turkey for one of sport's three mega events.
The European Championship ranks behind only the World Cup and the Olympics as a major sporting spectacle but interest in the 2020 tournament has been strangely muted.
Until this week, only Turkey had come forward and the prospect of a straight vote against that bid alone has prompted the national associations of Scotland, Wales and Ireland to take a first significant step towards submitting a bid of their own.
The three 'Celtic' FAs have declared an interest in 'tri-hosting' the tournament and UEFA's deadline for such expressions of interest expires at midnight tonight.
The only other country to have come forward is Georgia, but the former Soviet republic would struggle to satisfy UEFA's criteria on the number and quality of stadiums, especially as the tournament will expand from 16 to 24 teams in four years' time.
Turkey at one point looked nailed on to become hosts after being publicly supported by UEFA president Michel Platini but that bid is now in some disarray.
The Turkish federation have been engulfed by allegations of corruption and match-fixing in Turkish football, and a Euro 2020 bid conflicts with Istanbul's bid to land the Olympics in the same year.
Platini had signalled he would support Turkey's bid, but only if Istanbul failed in its Olympic bid.
UEFA executive committee members much prefer being able to choose between more than one candidate, and having a rival for Euro 2020 also gets the International Olympic Committee out of a hole because they could not vote for Istanbul if Turkey were the only Euro bidder.
One senior figure at UEFA told the Press Association that Turkey have real problems to deal with and that could open the way for the Celtic nations.
He said: "Many in UEFA are losing patience with Turkey due to the chaos in the football there. The Olympic clash does not help either so this could be good news for Scotland, Wales and Ireland if they were to proceed with a bid."
UEFA have had some bad experiences with co-hosting with different governments, different police forces and different tax regimes.
The expansion of the tournament means however that very few countries could practically be solo hosts, and England, Germany, and Spain have all ruled themselves out while France are hosting Euro 2016 and Russia are concentrating on the 2018 World Cup.
A joint Scandinavian bid also looks unlikely due to a lack of political support.
In geographical terms, Ireland, Scotland and Wales may not have any direct borders with each other but the distances involved are minor compared for example to Ukraine.
Jonathan Ford, the chief executive of the Football Association of Wales, stressed the countries had not yet submitted a bid.
Ford said: "It is not a bid, it's a declaration of interest and that will allow us to obtain the information from UEFA so that we can fully assess and determine, independently and together, whether we should submit a bid."
The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) said in a statement: "The expression of interest is preliminary after the principle was discussed and is being put forward by the three associations so that the opportunity can be explored in more detail.
"At this stage no bids would be expected or required by UEFA for at least 18 months."
The Scottish Football Association issued a similar statement saying: "We can confirm that we have had initial discussions on the principle of a joint bid with both Wales and the Republic of Ireland and have declared our interest to UEFA in order that we can fully explore the opportunity in more detail.
"At this stage no bids are expected by UEFA in relation to Euro 2020. These will not be required for at least 18 months."
Bidders would need to put forward up to 10 stadiums to host matches in the Championships.
Scotland and Wales would struggle to provide that number of stadiums to satisfy UEFA requirements but Ireland's involvement would cover the shortfall. Somewhat ironically, it was the SFA and FAI who proposed the increase in the size of the competition.
The countries have not fared well in the past in bidding for the tournament. Scotland and the Republic bid jointly for Euro 2008 but were one of the first to be eliminated, and Scotland and Wales considered bidding jointly for Euro 2016 but decided against it.
Georgia have confirmed interest in hosting the tournament despite their hopes of Azerbaijan joining them in a joint bid being dashed.
Lado Vardzelashvili, the Georgian sports minister told a news conference today that they would proceed with a solo bid after Azerbaijan decided to concentrate on a bid by Baku for the 2020 Olympics.
"Azerbaijan has made a bid to host the Olympics so Georgia will continue bidding for Euro 2020 independently," Vardzelashvili was quoted by media in Georgia today.
The former Soviet republic may struggle to fulfil the UEFA criteria for stadiums but Vardzelashvili insisted that construction of "ultra-modern stadiums" will start this year.
Stewart Regan, chief executive of the SFA, insisted there had been no attempt by UEFA to persuade the Celtic nations to declare an interest to prevent a situation where Turkey looked likely to be the only candidate.
Regan said: "The only encouragement was in the letter from UEFA that came out to all the associations with the acknowledgement that bids from more than two countries would be considered - that was the first time that had been put on record.
"It's now a case of deciding whether it's a goer or not. So far this is just an expression of interest."
Regan added that Tuesday night's deadline for expressions of interest would not prevent other countries entering the contest at a later date.
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