France to host Euro 2016 as UEFA play safe

By Brian Homewood

GENEVA (Reuters) - France will host the 2016 European Championship after UEFA opted to play it safe on Friday, choosing the French bid over Turkey in a close vote after outsiders Italy had been eliminated in the first round.

France, who staged the tournament in 1960 and 1984 and have also hosted two World Cups, won the vote 7-6 at the expense of Turkey, who had been making their third bid for their first major soccer championship.

"Right now I'm overwhelmed just thinking that France will welcome the Europe of football," French Football Federation President Jean-Pierre Escalettes said at the televised ceremony.

"What matters to us is to have the trust of UEFA and that trust will not be betrayed."

France President Nicolas Sarkozy appeared at the ceremony to support his country's bid, sitting alongside the French president of UEFA, Michel Platini, who led his country to victory as an inspirational player in 1984.

Platini sat out the executive committee meeting which voted on the winners and admitted it was an uncomfortable situation for himself and vice-president Senes Erzik of Turkey, who also took a back seat.

"The position was rather complex, not just for the president but also for the vice-president. We had nothing to win in this situation," said Platini.

"This has proved the president is not a dictator because, if he was, the vote would have been 13-0."

Problems and delays in Poland and Ukraine, who will jointly host Euro 2012, may have persuaded UEFA's executive committee to avoid choosing Turkey, especially as 2016 will be the first tournament to feature 24 teams, expanded from the current 16.

The Turkish government had promised to invest one billion euros ($1.23 billion) of public money in stadiums for the event. It would also have needed to spend some 20 billion euros on national transport infrastructure, including high-speed trains.

"We are devastated. This was our third bid so it is not much consolation to know that we lost by a small margin," Turkey's Euro 2016 bid manager Orhan Gorbon told Reuters in Istanbul by telephone.

"Losing is one thing but it is an underestimation of Turkey to say it was not capable of hosting a larger tournament, or it was to do with Ukraine...I don't understand why France should be seen as the safe option."

The French budget for stadiums is 1.7 billion euros, of which 39 percent will come from public investment. UEFA's review of the bids said around half of the required private funding had already been secured. The French proposal includes 12 stadiums, four of them new.


Sarkozy had told UEFA that France wanted to host the event because of, rather than in spite of, the worldwide economic problems.

"We asked ourselves whether we wanted to be candidates in the middle of a crisis," he said during the French presentation.

"But sport is an answer to the crisis. It is because we are in a crisis that we need sport. Nothing is more powerful than sport and, within sport, nothing is more powerful than football."

Italy's chances had been written off after a critical review of their bid following UEFA's inspection visits and it was no surprise to see them eliminated in the first round of voting.

"We embarked on this bid as a sporting challenge and in sport you need to know how to accept defeat even if obviously we are bitter," Italian soccer federation president Giancarlo Abete told reporters.

"However, we have no regrets. Everyone played their part. We showed passion, competitiveness, a European spirit but obviously other elements have prevailed."

The three candidates used different tactics in their bid to woo voters.

The Turks followed a similar line to Rio de Janeiro's successful campaign to host the 2016 Olympic Games in trying to urge voters to take the tournament to new pastures.

Italy's case was put by around a dozen teenagers who took it in turns to address the delegates with a cameo appearance by former captain Paolo Maldini.

The French presentation consisted of a boy called Nathan asking French officials questions to explain the benefits of hosting the competition, and included a brief appearance by former World Player of the Year Zinedine Zidane.

(Additional reporting by Alexandra Hudson in Istanbul and Mark Meadows in Milan; Editing by Clare Fallon)