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The countdown to two major European national team events next month – the UEFA EURO 2012™ qualifying competition draw and the UEFA EURO 2016™ bid handovers – were key items on the UEFA Executive Committee's agenda at its meeting in Valletta, Malta, on Thursday.
The draw for the qualifying stages takes place in Warsaw, Poland, on 7 February, while the bid handovers by those in the running to stage the final round in six years' time follows at UEFA's Swiss headquarters on 15 February. "Preparations for UEFA EURO 2012 are going well," UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino told uefa.com after the meeting. "We are well on track. The draw is the kick-off for a EURO which will take place in central and eastern Europe – we are all convinced that it will be a fantastic EURO, and we are all working hard towards that."
Important decisions are due shortly with regard to UEFA EURO 2016, the first EURO final round with 24 teams instead of the current 16. "There are three bidders currently – Turkey, Italy and France," said Mr Infantino. "A key date is 15 February, when the bid handover takes place in Nyon. The three bidders will come and hand over their bid dossier to UEFA – these bid dossiers will then be analysed by our experts on the National Team Competitions Committee, and they will be submitted to the Executive Committee, who will take a final decision on who stages and organises UEFA EURO 2016 in Geneva at the end of May." The announcement of the host country will be made in Geneva on 28 May (13.00CET).
UEFA is also planning important steps in the nurturing of young referees, as part of a comprehensive overall programme. "UEFA has taken a very important decision when it comes to the development of young referees," said Mr Infantino. "This comes from the UEFA president, whereby UEFA should be more involved in football activities on the pitch. We have some fine football pitches next door to our headquarters in Nyon. As from next year, we are launching a youth referees' programme, where we invite three referees from each of the 53 national associations to come for a couple of weeks to Nyon. They will be surrounded by professional instructors, and they can make progress to ensure that they can become better and better."
Meanwhile, the experiment with additional assistant referees which has been carried out in the UEFA Europa League group stage will continue this spring. In addition to the match referee and two assistant referees on the touchline, two extra assistants are placed behind the goal line, with the mission of focusing on incidents that happen in the penalty area, such as fouls or misconduct.
"The future regarding this experiment is in the hands of the International Football Association Board, and also of course in the hands of FIFA, which has given permission for these tests. We have done the first half of the Europa League, we will continue up to the final in Hamburg in May," added the general secretary. "The first feedback from those who are playing – the players, the coaches – is broadly positive. [The five-referee system] serves especially as a deterrent and we hope [this experiment] will bear fruit."
UEFA Grassroots Day
The Executive Committee was given an update on the preparations for a celebration of grassroots football on Wednesday 19 May – UEFA Grassroots Day – three days before the UEFA Champions League final at the Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid. "This is a very important message: it's not only about stars, it's about grassroots football," said Mr Infantino. "Grassroots football will be celebrated all over Europe with a lot of events. The national associations will be involved, we will have some ambassadors – star players – we will involve the schools and we will make sure that grassroots football will be in the thoughts of all those who enjoy football, adults and kids."
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