One of the more eccentric rituals of sport took place live on television screens across Europe yesterday: the tournament draw for UEFA EURO 2012. After seeing a number of these types of events I have concluded that the best way to watch them is on the radio.
Draw veterans will have recognised a series of now familiar elements: pre-draw speculation from studio experts (“they’ll want to avoid Spain”); the compulsory “indigenous dance segment”; speeches; retired players coming onto the stage; tourism videos; clips of former tournaments and, finally, after an interminable delay, the drawing of small plastic balls out of goldfish bowls according to a system so complicated that it reinforces suspicions that the whole thing is fixed. Once the draw is done we get more expert comments offering such startling insights as:
- There are no easy games at this level
- After a disappointing World Cup they’ll be looking to do better this time
- They have some good young players
The draw is a fundamental element of a large number of sports tournaments designed to ensure fairness by adding a random and uncontrollable aspect to the event. However, the draw is very often seeded with the aim of easing the path of the highest ranked teams or athletes to later rounds. Perhaps curiously, the rationale for seeding rarely seems to be questioned, although there are often fierce arguments about how seeding should work. It seems there is general acceptance that fans want to see the best teams get through to the final stages of tournaments. The incentive (or consolation) for the weaker teams is that one day they may be higher ranked and therefore face an easier draw.
The news appetite for the outcome of the draw is not in doubt – the UEFA EURO is a great tournament which will be followed closely by tens or even hundreds of millions of fans across Europe in June 2012. There is extensive coverage in all of the sixteen countries which have qualified for the event and no doubt also in many others. For example, see the Daily Telegraph focusing on England, Le Figaro (France), Marca (Spain), Gazzetta dello Sport (Italy) and Gazeta Wyborcza (Poland, joint host of the tournament alongside Ukraine). Fans will enjoy speculating endlessly about the prospects for their team in the tournament in the months ahead.
The point is that a straightforward procedure, which could easily be done in a split second on a computer, is turned into a vast jamboree involving hundreds of people. It happens because there is sufficient demand from broadcasters and other media to make it worthwhile. Yet I suspect there wasn’t a single fan watching yesterday who wasn’t impatiently wishing they would just get on with the draw.
It’s clear that host countries want an opportunity to promote themselves ahead of a tournament and I fully appreciate that a draw conducted by famous retired players is more appealing than one done by computer, but the draw as an event has got out of hand.
The pompous and overblown nature of the ceremony (and UEFA is one of several sports organisations which go over the top with these things) demonstrates a disconnect with the interests and needs of the fans they serve. Next time, I’ll listen on the radio. And I’m pleased about England’s draw, by the way – it could have been much worse.