Many would agree that allowing the hosts of a tournament free passage into the competition is simply an absurd policy. However, this policy seems to imbue the two major world soccer tournaments today — The World Cup and the European Championships or the Euro, as is more popularly called.
In the World Cup, 32 places are available in the final tournament, however, one of them is reserved for the host nation, but if two or more nations host the competition jointly, each is awarded a place.This policy, also holds for the European Championships and even the Asian Cup.
Soccer savants have claimed that the use of such a policy, seriously blemishes the credibility of these tournaments and that it has taken away from potential truths about who is really the best. I tend to agree with this opinion and shall offer in this article, my reasons why automatic qualification must be abandoned in World tournaments.
The ultimate purpose of any tournament whether zonal or worldwide, is to seek the best team at that time. Let us use the recently concluded Euro as the example. My primary analytical question is, can we really say that Switzerland or Austria are better footballing nations than England or Denmark or North Ireland? When the 16 participating teams of the Euro finals are presented, the implicit assumption is that these 16 are the best of European football.
Yet, Switzerland and Austria were gratuitously included, solely on the basis of playing hosts, and moreover, at the expense of countries with a much richer football pedigree. The system must be rectified so that in the future, when the final 16 or 24 or 32 are presented, critics and fans can have peace of mind and no dispute; knowing that whosoever they are watching, has made it to the final count the fair way and in so doing deserve the right to be there. There must be no “if’s, but’s or maybe’s” about what could have been. This is the only way FIFA and/or UEFA can say that the competition reflects the truth and subsequently their rankings can be justified.
So much weight did this Euro carry, that Spain shot to number one in the world soon after their triumph. But let’s just suppose everyone had to qualify and England had taken that place. Suppose they were drawn into the same group as Spain and as a result Spain never made it out of the group stage. Would they now be claiming Spain is number one? Giving automatic places leaves too much room for suppositions. You can’t have an event that seeks to uncover the best when it makes a way for mediocre teams who may never have made it in the first place, if they had to go through the hard process of group qualification to get there. After allowing such a flaw, to claim that the tournament is fair and is a true reflection of who is the best is rubbish!
I feel that this policy to include the hosts is simply a chivalrous gesture and cannot be continued if we are really in search of the truth. Should they want to present a token of gratitude to the host nation(s),FIFA & UEFA need to find another way to achieve such a goal. The hosts already benefit from the exposure as well as the surge in their tourism sector, so how about just presenting them with an award or accolade. This can be done on the day of the finals, just as everyone is watching. It is a good way of paying respect to the nation for their hospitality. But just letting them compete in the finals on the merit of being the host is a terrible idea.
In Copa America, CONMEBOL’s version of the Euro, there is no qualification by way of hosting. ALL teams compete along with two invited teams. At the tournament’s end there can be no doubt about the champions. They are truly the champions because EVERYONE has been given a chance. Yes, I agree that CONMEBOL contains way fewer teams than UEFA, but, that just means UEFA is responsible for finding a way for all nations to enter a qualification process hence giving all nations equal opportunity to make it to the final 16. It makes little sense to have 51 out of 53 teams compete in qualifiers. The excluded two could have affected the final draw in too many ways. They too should have been put to the test, to see if they have what it takes to be among the best.