Scotland's Euro 2008 bid at risk

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The Independent Online

The Scottish Executive has been told it can waste no more time deliberating over funding for the country's bid for the 2008 European Championship if it is to end in success.

The organisers of Scotland's bid for the 2008 tournament fear vital ground could be lost because the Executive has yet to declare whether it will help fund the £80m ground improvement plans. They want clarification in order to put an end to the unpopular contingency plan of a joint bid with the Republic of Ireland.

With Fifa, the game's world governing body, having decided that the World Cup finals will be shared among all the footballing continents, and with Germany already having secured the 2006 finals, Europe would probably have to wait until 2026 for another chance to stage the tournament.

That would make the European Championship even more coveted and Scotland's Euro 2008 spokesman, Simon Lyons, believes that Italy, Spain and England would fight off smaller rivals for the future tournaments.

Scotland's 2008 rivals are already known – and none are a major force in European football. They are a four-nation Scandinavian alliance, Hungary, and joint ventures between Austria and Switzerland, Turkey and Greece, and Bosnia and Croatia. "A solo bid has a much stronger chance than a joint bid," Lyons said. "The two main bidders against us are joint bids. We will never get an opportunity like this again.

"The government's own economists have said there is no downside whatsoever. This is not a bidding war like the Ryder Cup. This is an opportunity to host the third biggest party in the world and bring £500m into the economy."

The draw for the Euro 2004 qualifiers is scheduled to be made in Portugal on 25 January, and Lyons is pressing the Executive to agree to the funding before then. "There are certain times in the year when important people gather," he said. "The draw is one and we hope to have a presence there. It would be great if the Executive had made a decision by that time and we could present our case to the football world."

Support is lukewarm in Ireland, where plans for a new national stadium have yet to be ratified. The Scots had planned to bring the Irish on board because they do not have the stadia to meet Uefa's criteria.

Uefa, European football's ruling body, wants at least eight 30,000-capacity all-seat stadia and Scotland currently has four, including Murrayfield, the home of Scottish rugby union. Plans for new stadia at Aberdeen and Dundee have already been officially endorsed and proposals to upgrade Hibernian's and Kilmarnock's grounds could bring the total up to the required eight.

A Scottish Executive spokesman said Uefa's insistence on eight stadia instead of six was the main reason behind the delay. "When we first started this process we were expecting criteria of six to eight stadia but in December Uefa said it required eight," he said. "We have four already so eight obviously means four other stadia – and that obviously requires more money."

* The Scottish Premier League chairmen have "unanimously" agreed to the concept of a television channel devoted solely to the top division. "The concept of a channel was put forward to offer the most comprehensive range of broadcasting choice. The indications are that this route will deliver maximum commercial benefits to all 12 clubs," the SPL chief executive, Roger Mitchell, said. The current TV deal with Sky expires at the end of the season.

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