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  • Metodi Shumanov

Balkan World Cup 2030: Dreams vs Reality

Updated: Jan 23, 2019

Serbia, Greece, Romania & Bulgaria are planning a joint bid - four football writers give their verdicts

Questions:

1. Do you think this idea is plausible and could actually turn into reality? If yes/no - why?

2. How much of this joint bid is a classic PR stunt from your country’s political leaders?

3. What’s the current football infrastructure in your country like – biggest advantage and disadvantage as of today?

4. Imagine for a second we won any of those bids, what would that mean to the Balkans in your opinion?


Serbia, Vladimir Novakovic

1. I’ll split the idea into two separate concepts. There is no way the Balkans could ever get the World Cup, there are problems with it on just too many levels. First of all, it’s a question of size: by the time this bid gets on the table, the World Cup will include 48 teams, meaning at least 80 games. If a stadium is on average used 5-6 times during the tournament that would mean 14 to 16 stadia would be needed. Then there would be expectations that each host nation would have an automatic berth (why would anyone bother otherwise?), which would decimate Europe’s pool (in my opinion it is too narrow as it is, I think UEFA should get 20-22 out of 48 spots on merit).

When it comes to Euro championships, it gets way more realistic. That’s 51 games, so it’s plausible to do it with just 8 stadia (10 to 12 would be preferable) and we can cope with that. Four hosts would leave 20 places for the rest to fight for, which is a nice quantity. Lately, UEFA has shown remarkable dedication toward spreading the game across the continent. Last, but surely not least, we all know who’s at the helm at UEFA, and we all know which countries helped him get there.


2. When it comes to Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić, everything’s a PR stunt. He has long been very successful in that field. This kind of idea suits his MO perfectly – pick up some political points now, then if nothing happens for real in 5 to 10 years it would be yesterday’s news. I actually think that getting the tournament would be a true challenge for him and his government, as it would mean building a lot of infrastructure and they are famous for missing the deadlines left and right.


3. I couldn’t think of a single advantage to be honest. The state is truly appalling. The big two keep getting by with UEFA, but compared to Hungary, Slovenia or even Macedonia their grounds are truly outdated. It’s been about a decade since the possibility of not having a single stadium complying with UEFA standards has been discussed in Serbia. Various solutions were mentioned from time to time, including a new state of the art ground on Belgrade’s outskirts. The trouble is that there is simply no way to make a 200-300-400 million stadium busy enough to be sustainable. Both Crvena zvezda and Partizan have flirted with major reconstructions in the past, but it would almost certainly include solving the ownership issue and it is not realistic at this moment.

As for the rest of the country, there’s not a single stadium with twenty thousand capacity, let alone 30 thousand, a minimum required by UEFA, or 40,000 for the World Cup. Many grounds around the country have gone through reconstruction of some sort since the turn of the century, but to say that proper job has not been done would be an understatement. The fact that the four biggest stadia in the country still have athletic tracks speaks volumes.

Now let’s get to the biggest issue of the whole bid: the four countries involved have five big cities between them, the national capitals and Thessaloniki. All of those cities have over a million inhabitants with their agglomerations, no other city in the region gets to half a million. It seems pointless to make a bid based on five cities with two stadiums each, and it is so difficult to imagine how would Novi Sad, Niš, Varna, Plovdiv, Cluj-Napoca, Larissa or Timișoara make it work with a 30-thousand-seater. If we follow requirements (10 stadia, 30k minimum for Euro; 14 stadia, 40k minimum for World Cup) we could see quite a few white elephants.


4. The idea of hosting such an event is huge. Apart from the Athens Olympics our whole experience on that level rests on two games Belgrade staged during the 1976 Euro and the 3 Bucharest games in 2020. Additionally, there were three UCL finals in Athens and one in Belgrade, plus one Europa League final in Bucharest. That is 10 top-level games spread across 47 years. Having recently seen three Champions League games in front of 50+ thousand people in Belgrade you could have sensed what it would be like to have a month-long football party in the neighbourhood.

When it comes to football development, I’m not convinced it would help a lot. Football is already huge all over the Balkans and it really needs infrastructure, but not that kind of infrastructure. Instead of four way too large stadia per country it would be better to build a dozen small-to-midsized, but truly modern and functional grounds that would help local teams get people in week in, week out and have a decent chance of being full on regular basis.


Greece, Konstantinos Zaliaris

1. First of all, we have to make sure people know that we are talking about a big project which, right now, is just talk and talk... Well, nothing in theory is impossible, so this idea can really become reality, because we are now in an era in which we are preparing ourselves for the Euro 2020 across many big European cities. That’s why I think it is possible that the Balkan countries can do something like that by agreeing to host a big football tournament. Of course, discussions as well as really detailed plans must come to the surface in order to submit a bid that will actually look interesting to the football governing bodies.


2. Well, in my opinion everything that gains the approval of citizens, is something that disguises a real political PR stunt. Let's not forget that Greece will have new elections in the autumn of 2019, so Alexis Tsipras, our political leader, should have thought that scenario through and will try to put some focus on athletics as a whole. And the idea of organising a football tournament would look like something to make a good impression on. Also, nobody should forget that football is the people’s game, but all those people have many more things in life to think about, including the day-by-day struggle for making a living by overcoming different problems.


3. The economic crisis has had a massive impact on football and sports in general here, in Greece. The country's current infrastructure is definitely not ready for something that big such as hosting Euro 2028 games, let alone the 2030 World Cup. If I have to point out our biggest advantage right now, it is George Vasiliadis, Greece’s current Minister for Sports. He is a guy that has shown courage and determination when it comes to making big and important decisions, regardless of whether they are strict or not. As for the disadvantages, I could write an entire essay and still won’t be able to cover many of them. From stadiums, to organising events or finding solutions quickly and executing potential Plan B, C or D...


4. A potential scenario of winning the bid would mean that the plan our political leaders have presented to the governing bodies is way better than the United Kingdom’s project, or the South American bid. If we manage to do that, then it means that we’ve succeeded in reaching an agreement over many pieces of the big and complicated puzzle. This will be the first step. Of course, it will also mean we are sure that all things and needs will be met, delivered and executed with at least 90% success. Which is s a lot. And there is always a “but”... I’m not convinced the Balkan political leaders are capable of preparing a flawless bid. And even If they do that, as of today, we are the underdogs, definitely.


Romania, Emanuel Roşu

1. No, I think it's part of some political strategy. I don't really know what the situation is in other countries, but Romania has a looooong, very, very long way to go until it can be considered for such an event. It's just a scam from the politicians here. They are building stadiums and see this joint run just as an opportunity to make themselves visible. That's all, a stunt, nothing real. We don't have roads, we don't have a strategy, we don't have any of the things you would need for such an event. Except for a new stadium in Bucharest, all the others are too small for an European finals tournament. So not even the stadiums they are building are good enough for such a competition.


2. Can I say more than 100%? The initiative wasn't even theirs, they got dragged into this by our neighbours. They considered it an opportunity and took advantage of it.


3. We have more new stadiums than all the countries in the region. Apart from that... nothing. There isn't a culture of really HAVING something around a stadium, meaning shops, restaurants, decent bars for fans. There was no preoccupation for that, mainly because clubs don't own stadiums. They just play at them for free or for an event rent. And the local administrations don't have anything to do with sports, they don't know how to take advantage of a stadium, new or old. They can't even take care of the pitch properly. No talking about developing something good for the community around them.


4. Impossible. We can never win. It's just a political bluff. We are like 4-5th tier clubs merging into one and saying we'll beat the champion of the country, even though we are not even competing in the same league and we are 4 worlds apart.


Bulgaria, Metodi Shumanov

1. On the back of a few unsuccessful bids to host the Winter Olympics and become a part of the pan-European Euro 2020, Bulgaria has no experience in organising massive sports events. Participating in a joint bid would make sense in terms of cost sharing but when it comes to footballing infrastructure, the Balkans are among the most underdeveloped regions in Europe. According to the Bulgarian government’s estimations, our country has to spend €50m on each of the four stadiums needed that would form part of Bulgaria’s bid. And here we’re only talking about pure stadium investments. This has nothing to do with greater infrastructure projects such as public transport network, roads, hotels, etc. As of today, we don’t have any of those four venues in question. Even the existing national stadium in Sofia, which should be renovated as part of the plan, doesn’t meet many of UEFA’s latest criteria. So – at least on paper – a potential Balkan bid is nowhere near turning a dream into reality. The good news, in my opinion, is that both FIFA and UEFA are more and more focused on expanding the horizons and putting new destinations on the football map. Having said that, hosting the Euros would be much more realistic than organising a World Cup which would be the impossible job.


2. Current Bulgaria PM Boyko Borissov is a massive football fan (a former amateur player himself; in 2013 he ironically became Europe’s oldest professional footballer at the age of 54 by playing for his Vitosha side, which got promoted, in the Bulgarian second tier) and sport has always been a focal point in his political and PR strategy. Over the last few years, a few indoor sports venues across Bulgaria have been built from scratch but as far as the stadiums are concerned, the country still waits for its first modern footballing arena. Borissov has often been accused of populism and only time will tell how much of a PR move that potential joint bid is. If there’s no official actual bid in the end, then that would be nothing more than PR in its worst form.


3. As already mentioned above, Bulgaria lacks a proper football stadium, let alone 3 or 4 venues which would be needed. In 2014 our country submitted its bid to host a few Euro 2020 games but left the stage empty-handed. At the time UEFA backed its decision to reject Bulgaria’s bid by pointing out some of the main issues. First and foremost, Bulgaria based its bid on a non-existing stadium that should have been built by the start of 2017 (the venue in question has never been constructed; one could argue that this happened because our bid was rejected but the project Bulgaria applied with never looked plausible in the first place). The Sofia airport capacity, a lack of good road network as well as no legal actions implemented against reselling tickets in the black market were just a few of UEFA’s critics aimed at Bulgaria’s bid. Five years later some of these aspects have been improved but in terms of footballing infrastructure, it’s still practically non-existent.


4. Dreaming is for free, isn’t it? Hosting a Euro tournament (let alone a World Cup) would be the crème de la crème for all the football fans living in the region! I’m well aware of the consequences and the impact such a huge project could have on the society, though. It will definitely spark fierce debates between people who think investing in football stadiums is a massive waste of money when you can spend it much more wisely on education and health care, for example. Yet the 1994 World Cup memories are one of the very few things that has the power to bring the entire Bulgarian nation together even now. The only way to top that? To be right at the heart of hosting a World Cup, of course…

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