Zurich residents have pulled out the stops to allow the city to host UEFA EURO 2008™ matches.
By Marco Keller
All the question marks over the eighth venue for the finals of UEFA EURO 2008™ have been removed as the local authorities granted permission for the redevelopment of Zurich's Letzigrund stadium.
"We have completed the miracle of Zurich," said the relieved mayor of the Swiss-German city, Elmar Ledergerber, at a press conference last Thursday. Zurich will now host three games at the finals, which Switzerland is hosting in tandem with Austria, but it could easily have been none.
With Basel, Bern and Geneva all having been confirmed as host venues, Zurich's initial plans for hosting EURO matches hinged upon the use of Grasshopper-Club's Hardturm stadium. However plans to redevelop it for the finals met fierce opposition from local residents.
A legal battle was promptly launched, and city officials were forced to concede that there was no chance of the Hardturm being ready for the finals. That left Switzerland's biggest city wondering whether they would be denied the chance to participate in the finals.
Their last throw of the dice was to suggest the redevelopment of FC Zürich's Letzigrund. "When we decided to accelerate the Letzigrund project we knew we ran a high risk of people objecting but we were happy that nobody did," said Ledergerber.
It was a mark of Zurich's hunger for the finals that the project, launched last summer, got through the planning process so quickly. Six weeks ago, Zurich residents agreed to foot the CHF100m (€64m) bill for renovations, and with no objections, the building work can begin.
Ledergerber was delighted to have completed the deal. "A year ago we were quite sure that we would miss out on hosting the tournament," he said. "Now UEFA have told us that the Letzigrund is even better than Hardturm because it has more space."
Swiss Football Association president Ralf Zloczower was mightily relieved by the news, thanking the local authorities for their "outstanding and constructive cooperation", and the mayor of the Austrian capital, Vienna, also sent his congratulations.
Now the battle for Zurich is to get the new stadium ready in time for UEFA's deadline of summer 2007 - one full year before the finals. In August, authorities will decide on who will take charge of the project, with works due to begin in November or December.
Zurich residents can also begin to prepare to host the finals. "We want to give joy to our population and show that Zurich is not just a beautiful city but that the people are open-minded and know how to party," said Ledergerber. "We will do everything we can to make EURO 2008™ an even better tournament than Portugal."