Ahead of the Euro 2008 draw in Montreux, Switzerland's tournament director told swissinfo preparations remain on track.
Christian Mutschler says he is confident that disagreements over who should foot the bill for the football championships, hosted jointly by Switzerland and neighbouring Austria, will be ironed out.
It was revealed last month that the cost of staging the championships in Switzerland had mushroomed from an initial estimate of SFr10.5 million ($8.3 million) to around SFr180 million, mainly due to higher security costs.
The government says it is willing to contribute SFr72 million leaving the four host cities – Bern, Basel, Geneva and Zurich – saddled with the rest. Bern and Geneva say the rising costs threaten their participation in tournament.
The funding row over Euro 2008 escalated at the weekend after the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper disclosed that the government and the cantons had effectively written European football's governing body, Uefa, a blank cheque in 2002.
According to the newspaper, the Swiss authorities promised to underwrite the tournament to the tune of SFr1 billion as part of the country's bid. Parliamentarians were allegedly kept in the dark.
swissinfo: What do you make of the ongoing row over funding in Switzerland?
Christian Mutschler: First of all I was not involved in the bidding process done in 2001/2002. But it was always clear that whoever was bidding for Euro 2008 had to sign those guarantees. Within these guarantees it is also absolutely clear that Uefa is not responsible either for operational security or for the costs.
swissinfo: So you're not too concerned by the political dogfight, and you see the situation being resolved one way or another?
C.M.: Absolutely. No one is actually saying that they don't want to have Euro 2008, because I guess even politicians can see this is a unique chance to promote Switzerland. At the moment there is a political discussion ongoing and in the end I am sure we will find a solution to this.
swissinfo: Aside from the funding situation, how would you describe the current state of preparations?
C.M.: From an operational point of view, we are absolutely on track. Everything is going according to plan.
swissinfo: Work finally got underway in November on the SFr110 million renovation of Zurich's Letzigrund stadium. Were you ever concerned that the city might have to be scratched as a tournament venue?
C.M.: I would be lying if I said I was never worried. But we have very close communication and cooperation with the city of Zurich, and I always got the feeling that the authorities really wanted to host Euro 2008. Finally they found this solution with the Letzigrund stadium, which was backed by over 70 per cent of the public, and you have to take your hat off to them.
swissinfo: You mention public backing for the tournament in Zurich. As the draw takes place, how would you assess the level of support across the country for Euro 2008?
C.M.: We are still taking our first steps and it's still a long way – 862 days to be exact – to the opening game in Basel. I believe we should not start promoting the tournament until after the World Cup [in Germany] is over.
We start the qualifying games for Euro 2008 in September/October, and after that we will begin promoting the tournament mascot and launch different activities in Switzerland and Austria involving the public. If you look at the World Cup qualifiers involving the Swiss national team – against France and Turkey – there was an average TV audience of 1.6 million, which is enormous and shows that people in Switzerland care about football.
swissinfo: The Swiss government is looking to push through new anti-hooligan measures in time for the tournament, but they face opposition from the political left. Are you confident that everything will be in place in time?
C.M.: We have around 200 people at federal, cantonal and city level working on security and they have included every eventuality in their blueprint. Regarding hooliganism, maybe the tournament has acted as a catalyst for putting measures like this finally on the table. It's a pity that we need them but I don't think we need them just for Euro 2008. Unfortunately we need them to make all sporting events in Switzerland safer.
swissinfo-interview: Adam Beaumont
The draw for the Euro 2008 football championships took place in Montreux on Friday.
The event, which runs from June 7-29, is being hosted jointly by Switzerland and Austria.
Both Austria and Switzerland automatically play in the championships and do not have to take part in the qualifying rounds.
France have been drawn in the toughest group alongside Italy and Ukraine.
Holders Greece face old enemy Turkey, while Germany have tricky ties against the Czech Republic and Ireland.
Swiss preparations for the tournament have been dogged by security, stadium and funding issues.
Fears that Zurich might have to pull out as a host city were only resolved in July last year when plans to revamp the Letzigrund stadium got the green light.
The government is currently trying to push through tough new measures against hooligans but faces opposition from some parliamentarians who claim they are excessive.
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