Roland Garros needs revamp

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French football administrators – and fans for that matter – have been celebrating after the country deservedly won the right to host UEFA EURO 2016 at the end of May 2010, writes Rory Squires.

France faced stiff competition from Italy and particularly Turkey in the bid race, and the latter can consider itself particularly unfortunate after falling just one vote short of France in the final round. The administration of Italian football does not appear to have moved on from the haphazard approach that undermined its bid for EURO 2012, and Italy simply did not communicate its case clearly enough to persuade UEFA's Executive Committee that it deserved to stage the second biggest football tournament in the world. There were also grave doubts over the country's financial guarantees for the competition. Turkey, on the other hand, communicated its bid superbly. This was the opportunity to bring the tournament to an emerging market and a football–mad country. Aside from the football, it would also give a country that has had long–term ambitions to join the European Union the chance to impress the continent. Having lost out in two previous votes for the EUROs, Turkey would have ensured a top tournament with the eyes of the rest of Europe watching. However, on balance it is difficult to argue with a consensus that the host of the first 24–team European Championship should not be a relative novice. France, on the other hand, is a safe bet. The country is easily accessible to most of Europe and has a first–class transport infrastructure. The bid team has been united from the start, with French Football Federation president Jean–Pierre Escalettes working in perfect tandem with Ligue de Football Professionnel chief Frederic Thiriez, while the team's efforts were backed all the way by French Secretary of State for Sport, Bernard Laporte, and then his successor Rama Yade. Such a united front in a bid team is a rare occurrence these days, and France benefited by everyone pulling together in the same direction. Financial guarantees are in place to deliver the necessary stadium upgrades, and France, having staged the FIFA World Cup as recently as 1998 and also the Rugby World Cup less than three years ago, can be relied upon to organise a memorable tournament. At a time when France is preparing for widespread sports venue redevelopment and construction work in relation to EURO 2016, it is difficult to fathom why attempts to save a key part of the country's sporting heritage in Paris appear to have completely stalled. Roland Garros, the home of the French Open tennis grand slam, is far too small. The players, officials and fans say so, and when there is a downpour, forcing spectators to leave their uncovered seats and seek shelter, the overcrowding problems in the 8. 5 hectare site become all too apparent. In comparison, the US Open takes place at the 14–hectare Flushing Meadows in New York and the Wimbledon Championships in London and the Australian Open in Melbourne are both held at 20–hectare sites. The US Open, the final grand slam of the year, does not have any covered courts, while the Australian Open does use a retractable roof when the temperatures become too hot for players. However, the two mid–year slams at Wimbledon and Roland Garros have suffered from rain delays far more than the others. Wimbledon has introduced a retractable roof for its centre court, but at the French Open such ambitions remain part of the wider proposed development, which has ground to a halt. French Tennis Federation (FFT) managing director Gilbert Ysern recently admitted Roland Garros is "miles behind" Wimbledon in terms of facilities. The operators of Roland Garros have been fighting for the right to expand into the adjoining municipal Jardin des Serres. However, there has been plenty of opposition from locals, and although the overall Eur200m cost of the project to expand Roland Garros and install a roof over the centre court, Philippe Chatrier, is not prohibitive, the FFT has made no secret that it preparing to look at staging the tennis event somewhere else when the current agreement expires in 2015. In March 2010, Ysern warned that four alternative sites for the grand slam had been identified on the outskirts of the city, around 15km from the centre of Paris. The decision the Parisian authorities have to make is whether the city would be better served by retaining the claycourt tournament or a section of the Jardin des Serres, which at any rate would be far from ruined under the proposed redevelopment plans. Of course, the Parisian authorities should also be aware that the alternative of moving to a different site in the banlieues of Paris would leave at the heart of the city a sorry shell of a venue that had staged one of tennis' most cherished tournaments since 1928. In 2016, France will undoubtedly stage a supreme European Championships, and the country will ready itself for that honour by building four new stadia and renovating a further eight. It would be a contradiction if, by blocking one further redevelopment project, 2016 would also see the French Open move away from its historic home to a soulless new development elsewhere. Having committed to undertaking such a widespread redevelopment project for the Euros, surely the Parisian authorities – which, after all, have given the go–ahead to renovating the Parc des Princes in the city for EURO 2016 – can find a way of keeping the French Open at the home of claycourt tennis? Roland Garros is a venue full of history and atmosphere, but it is far too small to warrant the continuation of a grand slam in a sport that deserves to flourish rather than be restricted within the confines of such an outdated site. That is why it would be an affront to the heritage of the great city of Paris to allow the event to slip away to beyond its borders. The authorities must find a way of redeveloping Roland Garros. Ysern recently said that "competition between the four grand slams is healthy". However, if the French Open loses its magic by shifting to an unfamiliar site, the tournament will have simply become a poor relation to its forward–thinking cousins. About The Sport Briefing This story has been reproduced with the kind permission of The Sport Briefing. The Sport Briefing is published by PA Sport and can be found at: www. thesportbriefing. comSubscribers to Major Events International can take advantage ofexcellent discounted rates for The Sport Briefing. 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