UEFA Youth and Amateur Football Committee chairman Jim Boyce talks to UEFA.com about May's UEFA European Under-17 Championship finals in Slovenia. A long-time advocate of the tournament, Boyce hailed the progress made by the hosts, the surprise qualification of Georgia and the decision to increase the number of finals participants to 16 from 2015.
UEFA.com: After watching these U17 tournaments for more than a decade, what has improved the most for you?
Jim Boyce: I think without a doubt the publicity that the countries are now generating for the tournaments, the wonderful publicity that UEFA are developing, so that everyone throughout Europe is now aware that these tournaments are taking place. Obviously it's nice to see in this tournament that we have a country like Georgia who have qualified for a major finals for the first time. Hosts Slovenia, for a small country, have made tremendous progress.
UEFA.com: Some of the next countries to host this tournament are also smaller countries, like Slovakia (2013), Malta (2014) and Azerbaijan (2016) ...
Boyce: This year the U19 finals are being held in Estonia for the first time; next year we're going to Slovakia for the U17s. I think it's very important that UEFA tries to bring these tournaments to as many countries as they can. I know the public in these countries are delighted that they're now having an opportunity of having major European competitions. I think everyone at UEFA deserves the highest praise for spreading the gospel throughout Europe.
UEFA.com: Here in Slovenia we'll still have eight teams in the finals. What are your thoughts on the tournament going back to 16 teams?
Boyce: I'm delighted. I think eight teams is quite sufficient for the U19 and U21 tournaments, but the U17s is really a development tournament, giving young people the opportunity to take part in a major European finals. It also gives many of the smaller countries the opportunity of playing in major European finals. I think once again it's a very progressive step from UEFA. We listened to the coaches of all the associations, who asked us to go back to 16 teams. I am looking forward to it.
UEFA.com: You're here at the draw now; are you looking forward to coming back to Slovenia?
Boyce: Very much so. I had a beautiful walk around Ljubljana today. I have been to Maribor on two occasions, but this is my first time in Ljubljana, and the people are very friendly. I am looking forward to coming back for the final.
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