Euro bid talks set for February

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The Independent Online

The Scottish and Welsh football associations are set for crunch talks in February over the prospect of co-hosting the 2016 European Championships.

The Scottish Football Association and Football Association of Wales both confirmed today "tentative" discussions over launching a joint bid for the event had taken place.

Scotland's long-standing dream of staging the finals appeared to have ended in September when Uefa announced they were increasing the number of participants from 16 to 24 in eight years' time.

The country lacks the infrastructure to host an expanded tournament but the SFA are looking to link up with one of their near neighbours in the hope a combined bid will be successful.

They have also held talks with Northern Ireland, but PA Sport understands this is a non-starter, leaving Wales as the only viable alternative.

In a statement released to PA Sport, the SFA said: "As we've always said, we would love to host the European Championships in Scotland.

"However, we realise it's a huge undertaking and, as far as 2016 goes, we simply couldn't host it by ourselves.

"We're meeting with the other Home Nations at the International Football Association board meeting in Belfast in February. I'm sure it's something we'll discuss.

"If there was a feeling that a bid was a possibility, we would then commission a feasibility study."

Talks between the SFA and the FAW over a joint bid have been mooted for more than a year, with the latter revealing in April 2007 they hoped to enter into discussions.

But today marked the first time the SFA have confirmed such talks have taken place.

An FAW spokesman told PA Sport "very tentative" discussions have been ongoing for some time.

FAW secretary general David Collins said on www.bbc.co.uk: "The matter is on the agenda for our council meeting next week."

Uefa decided in September to expand the European Championship finals from 2016.

Current SFA chief Gordon Smith had lobbied for the change, despite admitting it would rule his country out of bidding individually for future tournaments.

However, as the expansion gives Scotland a much better chance of qualifying, Smith felt it was a sacrifice worth making.

Uefa are set to seek bid submissions for the 2016 finals in the spring and the expansion is likely to see the number of 30,000-plus stadia needed to host the tournament increase from eight to at least 10.

Scotland currently boasts only four such grounds and Wales just one, but most bidding countries start from a position of having to develop existing facilities or build new ones.

That includes Poland and Ukraine, who are hosting the 2012 finals.

Uefa general secretary David Taylor insists Scotland would be a "great place" to hold the tournament.

Former SFA chief executive Taylor, who was involved in the unsuccessful bid to bring Euro 2008 to Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, added in the Herald: "It would be terrific. But I must be careful here.

"My enthusiasm for and advice to any country could be perceived in the wrong way. Many countries in Uefa are capable of hosting the tournament."

The prospect of a Scotland bid received backing from across the country's political spectrum.

Sports Minister Stewart Maxwell, of the Scottish National Party, said: "Ultimately it will be for the SFA to decide whether to bid to host Euro 2016.

"Given that Uefa has increased the number of teams that qualify for the finals to 24 from 2016 onwards, it would be a major challenge to meet the stadium requirements.

"But I'm sure every football fan in Europe would relish the possibility of their nation hosting or co-hosting such a prestigious and major event as football's European championship."

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray said: "Having the European football championships hosted in Scotland would be a wonderful opportunity for Scottish youngsters to see football at the highest level and follow on from both the Olympics Games in 2012 and the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014.

"Along with the bid from the English FA to host the World Cup in 2018, it would make an incredible decade of sport in the UK."

Tory sports spokesman in Scotland Jamie McGrigor called the move "a great idea".

"It is spine-tingling thinking about what a potential decade of British sport we could have lined up - London 2012, Glasgow 2014, Euro 2016 and of course there is the possibility that the World Cup could be brought to these shores in 2018 as well," he said.

"There is real potential for Scotland to host the 2016 European Championships.

"Like Glasgow 2014, it would provide another boost to Scottish sportsmen and provide long-term sporting inspiration for youngsters.

"I look forward to the SFA making a sound case for submitting a bid and taking this idea forward."

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