When we decided to bid jointly for the tournament we did so with the aim of winning. We did so with the firm knowledge that we would be up against stiff competition, particularly from the Nordic and Austro/ Swiss bids. But we did so with the knowledge that the passion of our fans, our magnificent stadiums and the warm welcome of our people were strengths that could see us host a real festival of football the rest of the world would be envious of but desperate to join in. And with just a few days to go until we find out whether we’ve been successful, I can assure you that the bid we have submitted is outstanding. It is imaginative, confident and above all shows commitment to a true celebration of football that the whole world can enjoy.
Not only that, but it will raise the profile of Scotland and Ireland on the international stage whether we are successful or not.
This, and the World Cup in Japan and Korea, also made it obvious to the whole world that we are football mad. Football is an integral part of our society as the consistently high numbers who attend league games every weekend show. We know we could fill the stadiums for the EURO2008 Championships several times over –a key consideration in UEFA’s final decision. Our commitment to the game is not in question. But as I said, it takes more than just passion to win such a prestigious tournament. We have pulled out the stops to make sure the detailed technical criteria about stadium, infrastructure, hotel accommodation, security and everything else demanded by UEFA is met and indeed exceeded.
We have shown the UEFA inspection team what we can deliver. When they visited Scotland and Ireland in September they were left in no doubt that we have the ability to provide a first class tournament the world would remember. And they were left in no doubt about the political commitment from Bertie Ahern and I and indeed the Prime Minister Tony Blair. We are all confident that we have made the best bid possible and feel gratified and vindicated by reports that the bid is a front runner.
I firmly believe that our bid should win 2008. I am also determined, however, that if we loose, the legacy of the bid will live on. If we secure the tournament, our countries will benefit particularly at grassroots level encouraging participation and hopefully generating excellence. If we are unlucky, sport will still profit. Not only has the campaign raised awareness of the benefits of sport and football in particular, but we are committed to using some of the £70 million earmarked to invest in the tournament – an investment that will see even more return - to help develop sport on the ground.
This, along with the £87 million already allocated through the New Opportunities Fund to develop sporting facilities for school children, and the Scottish Budget £24 million boost to school sports, will ensure that Scotland can produce the new Denis Laws, Jimmy Johnstones and John Greigs of the future.
But we will not be despondent if the decision goes against us. We will not let this prevent us from aiming high in the future. Last week I launched an exciting new major events strategy and announced our plans to establish EventScotland, an organisation that will work to attract events to Scotland in future years. Quite simply our aim is to make Scotland one of the World’s foremost events destinations by 2015.
Securing Euro 2008 would be an excellent start to that ambition and would be one of only a number of prestigious events that we aim to attract to Scotland. Ours is a country that must be more ambitious and outward looking. Securing EURO2008 would be a tremendous kick-start to our plans to show the world that we mean business.
We have come a long way from the time we first announced our bid was to be a joint one. Then, some fans and some commentators were sceptical – even downright pessimistic – about our chances. Since then, however, persuaded by the strengths of our bid and the commitment of those involved in it, we have widespread support amongst the public and the media. As the weeks have passed the public has begun to dream too. They realise that we can and should be aspirational in our outlook. That we can and should aim high. That we can and should be a world class events destination.
Thursday could be one of Scotland’s proudest moments. If passion for the game, facilities, warmth of welcome and behaviour of fans were the only criteria being considered by UEFA then I believe we would win hands down. We have the best fans, the best facilities, the best welcome and the best scenery – we have the best bid. I am proud of the passion our bid for EURO2008 has created and I know that we should succeed.