Leading football and Welsh Government officials have been working to lure one of the world’s biggest sporting events to Cardiff, an Echo investigation has discovered.
Major steps have been taken in the past year as part of a drive to bring the Champions League final to the city.
In May, two of Uefa president Michele Platini’s right-hand men inspected the stadium and were taken on a tour of the capital, visiting Cardiff Castle, the Wales Millennium Centre and the Bay.
They were also shown Coopers Field, at the rear of the castle, which would be transformed into an exclusive hospitality venue for 10,000 VIPs, known as the Champions Village, and taken past Cardiff City Stadium, which is being proposed as host venue of the Women’s Champions League final.
The visit took place in the week before London’s Wembley Stadium staged this year’s Champion’s League final , which saw when Barcelona beat Manchester United.
The delegation were told that the city’s stadiums, infrastructure and hotels were “first class” and that Wales had produced “iconic players” such as Aaron Ramsey, Gareth Bale, John Toshack and Ryan Giggs.
The FAW and Government has since received positive feedback and, in a letter sent to Mr Platini in June, First Minister Carwyn Jones highlighted Wales’ track record of staging major events.
“Staging the Uefa Champions League final in Cardiff would provide a legacy throughout the country of Wales due to the passion for football across the nation,” Mr Jones wrote.
“This, coupled with the fact that the ‘Team Wales’ approach has provided such fantastic achievements organising successful FA Cup finals, Rugby World Cups and the Ryder Cup, fills me with confidence that Uefa should consider Cardiff and Wales a most suitable venue.”
However, Welsh Government e-mail correspondence obtained by the Echo also reveals Cardiff Airport has been highlighted as a “critical” issue.
Uefa is worried about the lack of flights from mainland Europe into Cardiff, together with the limited number of airlines operating from the Rhoose-based terminal.
The concerns were first raised when Uefa inspected facilities in Wales last November as part of the FAW’s joint bid to stage the 2013 Uefa Under-21 Championships with England.
An e-mail from a Uefa official following a visit to the Ryder Cup describes the airport as being “not well served by international schedule flights” and having a “really tiny terminal”.
This, the official said, would most probably lead to a “Heathrow operation”.
The Welsh Government has attempted to appease Uefa by stressing that Bristol, Birmingham and Heathrow airports are all within two hours’ travel time of Cardiff.
Bespoke travel arrangements would be put on for VIPs travelling from airports outside Cardiff.
Ticket-holders for the match would also get free travel around Wales during the week of the match and free travel to Wales from England 48 hours before and after the match.
The e-mails were obtained using Freedom of Information powers. The FOI request was submitted after the Welsh Government last month told the Echo that “no formal application process or invitation to bid has been received from Uefa”.
The e-mail trail reveals:
*Cardiff is being “reconsidered” as a venue by Uefa;
*government officials believe the Champions League final is at least as big as any other major event proposition for Wales;
*the direct economic impact in the week of the event would be comparable to the Ryder Cup;
*it could have an even larger television audience than the Ryder Cup – last season’s final was watched by 140 million people;
*tourism body Visit Wales, business body Cardiff & Co, the airport, Cardiff council and the WRU have been involved in the high-level talks.
During the brief visit on May 24, the Uefa delegation was given a presentation in a corporate box inside the Millennium Stadium.
An e-mail from an FAW official said it was designed to “allay any fears they may have regarding Cardiff being a fitting host for a Uefa Champions League final”.
Spencer Birns, Cardiff Airport’s head of commercial operations, last night said “the existence of direct scheduled services at the airport were not relevant” to the issue of being able to handle a major event in Cardiff.
“Most event traffic is chartered for the particular event and this is very clear from major activity through the airport for major events such as the Heineken Cup, FA Cup and the Ryder Cup,” he said.
“The 2008 Heineken Cup between Toulouse and Munster is an example in question, with two non-UK based fan bases having to fly into Cardiff.
“What is unclear from Uefa is the expected traffic impact assessments in hosting this major event.
“Cardiff Airport is working with the Welsh Government and Cardiff & Co in wishing to optimise Cardiff’s bid for this and all major events.”
Aside from the airport, a second key issue for Uefa is around sufficient accommodation for its officials and sponsors, as well the tens of thousands of travelling football fans.
Uefa needs around 6,000 rooms for the final and has told officials it will pay a “market rate” that is no higher than a high season rate.
At the stadium tour, Uefa was told there were potentially 36,000 beds in the Cardiff area, with a further 23,000 in serviced accommodation.
Following May’s meeting, the FAW is awaiting further instructions from Uefa regarding the next steps. With Wembley Stadium due to host the final again in 2013, the earliest Cardiff could stage the match is 2014 or 2015.
Stadium manager Gerry Toms last night declined to comment on the bid, but said: “If you ask me if we could host a game like the final, then the answer is yes because we have the appropriate Uefa and Fifa accreditation.”
Uefa did not respond to requests for a comment yesterday, but an FAW spokesman said: “We would be delighted if one of the major European finals were to be held in Cardiff.
“The Millennium Stadium is a fantastic stadium and Cardiff is a magnificent city and we are sure a final here would be a tremendous success.”
A Welsh Government spokesman yesterday said it had made “no secret” of the ambition to host a Champions League final in Cardiff at some point in the near future.
“There has been regular dialogue with Uefa over the last 18 months, following a fact-finding trip by Uefa officials and contacts made at last year’s Ryder Cup,” he said.
“The First Minister met with the Uefa delegation during their visit on May 24. The chief executive of the FAW was also in attendance. The meeting was an informal discussion, where the First Minister made a commitment on behalf of the Welsh Government to support efforts to bring the Uefa Champions League final to the Millennium Stadium. To date, no formal application process or invitation to bid has been received from Uefa.”
Cardiff council leader Rodney Berman said the capital had established an “unrivalled reputation” for hosting major sporting events which led to the city being awarded European Capital of Sport 2014.
“Hosting the Champions League final would be yet another feather in Cardiff’s growing sporting cap and a massive coup for the city,” heCoun Berman said.