Football: Fairer deal promised for Euro 2000

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The Independent Online
THE ORGANISERS of the next European Championship finals in two years' time are pledging to make tickets much more freely available to ordinary supporters.

Forty per cent of the tickets for Euro 2000, which will be jointly hosted by the Netherlands and Belgium, are likely to go on sale across Europe this autumn on a first-come first-served basis, with many likely to be sold via the Internet.

A further 25 per cent would be made available to fans of each competing team per game, with nearly all sales on a tickets-only basis rather than as part of travel packages. The remaining 10 per cent of tickets for the tournament, which will be played in stadiums with capacities ranging from 30,000 to 50,000, will go to sponsors.

The moves are being considered by Uefa, European football's governing body, and the organising committee for the 16-nation tournament in direct response to the criticisms of ticket sales for this summer's World Cup in France.

More than 60 per cent of tickets for France 98 have been allocated only to the French - which the European Commission says is in contravention of European law - and many competing countries are unhappy with their small allocations of tickets.

The qualifying competition for Euro 2000 begins this summer and will end in the autumn of 1999, when the draw for the finals will be made. However, the dates and venues for finals matches will be announced this autumn.

Although it is expected that many of the freely available 40 per cent of tickets will be bought by fans in the host countries, there will no specific allocation in favour of Belgian and Dutch fans.

For France 98, more than 60 per cent of tickets have been reserved for French citizens, 16 per cent for competing sides, 14.2 per cent to sponsors and over five per cent to tour operators.

British fans, tempted by the close proximity of the Euro 2000 venues, are likely to buy tickets before the finalists are confirmed, knowing they will still be guaranteed a chance to watch Europe's largest football tournament even if their side is not playing in games they purchase tickets for.

"It is a tremendously complex procedure," Ernie Walker, the chairman of the Euro 2000 ticketing committee, said of the ticket plans. He added that he is fully aware of the problems encountered by the World Cup's French Organising Committee (CFO), which is trying to please fans (who want access to tickets), governments (who want security guarantees), and the European Commission (which demands that tickets be sold uniformly within Europe). The CFO has also had to follow guidelines laid down by Fifa, football's world governing body.

Despite the European Commission's legal challenge to the CFO's decision to sell more than 60 per cent of France 98 tickets to French residents, there is no chance that those already sold will be recalled for fairer distribution. At best, it is expected that the CFO will release a small amount of extra tickets, estimated at a few hundred per team for the group stage games, for general sale in the next two weeks.

Walker said: "We'll address [the issue of equal access to tickets for Euro 2000] rather than come up with the same kind of situation that we see now."

The Euro 2000 organisers will also make as many tickets as possible available directly to fans at face value, without being expensively tied to organised packages. For France 98, there are 17 authorised tour operators world- wide who have control over the distribution of over five per cent of France 98 tickets, an average of more than 2,000 tickets per game. Fans buying tickets through these agents in Britain will be paying at least pounds 600 per game for their travel and for a ticket with a face value of between pounds 15 and pounds 35.

"Uefa prefers not to have tickets linked to travel packages at all," said Walker. "Our general approach would be we prefer tickets to go straight into the hands of genuine fans."

He added that Uefa would not directly give control of any tickets to travel agents. Only when the national federations choose to market their tickets through agents will a profit-making middle-man be used - but Uefa expects most national federations will choose to sell most tickets directly to fans at face value.

No date has yet been confirmed for when Euro 2000 tickets will be put on sale, but it is expected that full details of all arrangements, and the programme for Euro 2000 games, will be announced this autumn.