Singing in the rain: Switzerland's national soccer team made a disappointingly early exit from their first European Championship on home soil, but organisers insist that Euro 2008 still brought major gains for the country as a whole.
Stripping away all the hype, it is good to remember that the event was first and foremost a football tournament and there were few, if any, negative opinions when it came to the sport on offer. When the final whistle blew on Spain's deserved 1-0 win over Germany in the June 29 final, fans were able to look back on an event that was charged with attacking football, dramatic late goals and two surprise semi-finalists in the form of the passionate never-say-die Turks and the skilful, pacy Russians.
Many newspaper editorials the following day described Euro 2008 as the best European soccer championships ever.
Aside from the general high standard of play however, there were disappointments for both host nations with both Switzerland and Austria crashing out in the tournament's opening group stage. The weather was often less sizzling than the football, particularly in the first couple of weeks. And there were complaints from local businesses that turnover was lower than they had been led to believe--helped no doubt by the gloom in the skies and over the Swiss team's performance.
Credit must therefore go to the organisers and the Swiss public as a whole, who ensured that great football, partying fans, smooth logistics and the relaxed atmosphere stayed in the collective memory far longer than the rain clouds and sporting disappointments.
Having already warned before the event that they could do nothing to prevent poor weather or disappointing national team performances, the Euro 2008 organisers did extremely well in bouncing back after both scenarios became a reality.
"The main thing was that we had such a high quality of football," Euro 2008's chief operating officer Martin Kallen told Swiss News in July. "Clearly if one of the teams had made it to the quarter-finals we would have had an even better atmosphere and the weather meant we often had temperatures that were not perfect for public gatherings. But despite all that I think we still had the biggest party that Austria and Switzerland have ever seen."
Ironically, after dampening the mood early on, the weather and the Swiss team also played their part in helping to turn around the atmosphere in the second half of the tournament.
Having lost both their opening matches against Czech Republic and Turkey, surrendering the latter encounter in almost monsoon-like conditions, the Swiss revived along with the weather to register a morale-boosting if ultimately meaningless 2-0 win over a Portugal side who had already qualified for the quarter-finals.
The victory was Switzerland's first ever at a European Championships, after previous failures at Euro '96 and Euro 2004, and suggested that they were indeed better than their first two results in this tournament had suggested.
More importantly, it gave a lift to the long-suffering Swiss supporters and revived their interest in the tournament, albeit with their allegiances switched to other teams.
The most obvious beneficiaries of the Swiss fans' new loyalties were the Dutch whose own supporters swarmed into Bern in a sea of orange shirts, trousers, hats and novelty costumes, far exceeding the city's expected number of visitors and finally getting the Euro party started.
"It is always a pity when the home team does not achieve its goals, but it was always going to be difficult in a tournament involving the best 16 teams in Europe--and you have to remember that the World Cup runners-up France also went out at the same stage as Switzerland and Austria," Christian Mutschler, tournament director for the Swiss half of Euro 2008, told Swiss News.
"What was really nice to see though, was how the Swiss fans then joined in with other supporters, partying particularly with the Dutch, but also organising Swedish or Turkish nights, and proving that they could still be great hosts."
While many of the final statistics are still to be collated, the Swiss public authorities said they had met, and in some cases far exceeded, their own targets for the tournament. When it came to public transport, initial figures suggested they had comfortably achieved their aim to have 60 per cent of long distance journeys and 80 per cent of short trips conducted on the public rail, bus and tram network.
After being the subject of many gripes in the build-up to the tournament, particularly in terms of its cost, security was perhaps the biggest success story with discreet, highly-coordinated policing keeping hooliganism to minimal levels, lower than even the most optimistic pre-tournament expectations.
At a press conference in Bern following the last of the matches played in Switzerland, the public authorities' Euro 2008 project leaders said that just 550 temporary arrests had been made out of estimated total crowds of 2.3 million people.
The resulting arrest rate of just one supporter for roughly every 4,200 visitors was a significant improvement on the 2006 World Cup in Germany, which had already been praised as a remarkably peaceful tournament with just one arrest for every 2,330 spectators.
So, the Euro was a thrilling but peaceful spectacle that was strongly supported by public transport. But did it boost the Swiss economy? While arrest figures have already been counted and traffic levels roughly known, organisers admit that the relevant financial data will take many more months to sift through.
What can safely be said already is that, like the football itself, the accompanying commerce had its share of winners and losers. The early setbacks involving both the Swiss team and the weather led to plenty of complaints from street vendors, who had bought licences to sell their products in and around the fanzones, in the belief that their cash tills would be ringing all day and night.
Others who had never wanted to be part of Euro 2008 claimed that the tournament was damaging their livelihood, most notably the Zurich shopkeepers who found the usual access to their stores restricted by the city government's decision to cut off several streets to traffic to improve pedestrian flow. After failing to get the restrictions overturned in court, the shopkeepers later complained that they had suffered a 60 per cent drop in trade during the tournament.
Several hotels also found themselves with an unexpected number of empty rooms after failing to anticipate sharp declines after matches, with many supporters from nearby countries such as France, Germany and even the Netherlands choosing to head back home in between games.
But while some local businesses were happier than others, tournament organisers insisted that they were not to blame for the various tales of misfortune.
"Maybe some business people thought it would be exactly like Berlin during the World Cup, which is obviously on a completely different scale to any of the Swiss cities," Kallen told Swiss News.
"But while there were plenty of incredible forecasts being made before the tournament, we always stuck to the more realistic figures.
"There were a lot of elements that were hard to predict, such as the weather, and how much exactly fans would eat or drink and where they would choose to do so. When it comes to big events some people set their expectations too high and fail to take full account of the possible risks."
In line with forecasts
Overall however, financial analysts expect the tournament to roughly match the official pre-Euro forecasts that predicted additional turnover in Switzerland of between SFr 1.1 billion and 1.5 billion, additional overnight stays of up to 1.1 million guests and total visitor spending of between SFr 250-400 million.
"It will take some time to calculate the total economic impact ... We also have to consider the crowding out effect, by which we mean the amount of money that would have been spent anyway on other things if Euro 2008 had not taken place here," says Heinz Rutter whose economic research firm Rutter & Partners has been carrying out financial evaluations of the tournament for the Swiss government.
"From our initial findings we can already see that there were some areas with lower figures than expected, such as the fanzones outside of the four host cities and the out-of-town camp sites. But when you compare the low cost of camping with the higher outlay of a hotel room, then you can also see that a few empty fan camps have a less significant effect on the overall financial impact of the tournament.
"When you also consider some of the higher-than-expected figures such as the number of fans who came to Bern and Basel, I personally feel that the final economic boost will turn out to in the range of what we predicted before the tournament."
Swiss Tourism has already begun analysing how the country fared in international press coverage and launching campaigns aimed at bringing in tourists who developed an interest in Switzerland owing to the tournament. One early example is a television advert aimed at the Dutch, many of whom barely knew of Bern's existence before Euro 2008. It depicts a series of women--a barmaid, dairy worker, policewoman and two pensioners on a park bench--all weeping at the departure of the beloved Dutch supporters and hoping they will come back soon.
While the European Championship is not expected to come back to Switzerland anytime soon, there is now a fervent hope in political, sporting, business and tourist circles that the country has demonstrated its ability to stage big events, whether sporting or otherwise.
Bern is already preparing to stage the world ice hockey championships in 2009 while Geneva is considering a bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics. Swiss football association president Ralph Zloczower even suggested the country could someday co-host a soccer World Cup.
With many fans still, amazed that the relatively small cities and stadiums of Switzerland and Austria proved capable of squeezing in so many supporters for the Euro, that wish may turn out to be little more than a pipe dream. But if not, at least the soccerphobic shop-keepers of Zurich have been forewarned!
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|Date:||Aug 1, 2008|
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