swiss missing the euro train

BERN - The No. 9 tram heads northeast from the medieval center of Bern to the Guisanplatz stop, where the city's modern sports stadiums are located.

BERN - The No. 9 tram heads northeast from the medieval center of Bern to the Guisanplatz stop, where the city's modern sports stadiums are located.

On board, passengers can see a digital countdown clock, flashing the number of days, hours and minutes until tens of thousands of fans arrive in Switzerland for a major sporting event.

Yes, it's less than a year to go until the ice hockey world championship comes to Bern.

Never mind that Switzerland is co-hosting this summer's European soccer championship. In Switzerland, you can't always be sure soccer is the biggest game in town.

"If at New Year's Eve you started the party at 10 o'clock in the morning you would not be awake at midnight," Euro 2008 tournament director for Switzerland Christian Mutschler said.

"The Euro is something new and maybe sometimes in Switzerland we have a few problems with new things rising up."

Even at Geneva's airport, merchandise from Switzerland's America's Cup champion Alinghi is often more prominently displayed than the Euro 2008 logo. Similar apathy can be found in Austria, where the Euro 2008 final will be played in Vienna on June 29.

Fans like Marc-Olivier Reymond fear their compatriots, who will likely never host a modern World Cup or Olympics, are letting the big one pass them by.

"For me it is one chance in our life. But there are too many restrictions," said Reymond, founder of a satirical sports website called Carton Rouge (Red Card).

"There is a big paranoia," added Reymond, who is from Lausanne. "It seems the police are very strict. They say you will not be able to party in the street or make too much noise."

In Austria, a recent study by the marketing department of Vienna's university showed 23 percent of all Austrians are so-called "Euro Muffel" - people who would rather completely ignore the event. Their main concern is that Vienna might be filled with noisy, drunken fans during the tournament in June.

Ursula Stenzel, a former European Parliament member who is now the head of Vienna's central district, fears people will damage the ancient heart of Austria's capital.

The "Fan Zone" - a fenced area which will host about 70000 supporters a day - stretches from the Hero's Square to the City Hall Square. It includes some of Austria's most beloved historical sites and buildings, such as the Burg Theater, the national parliament, and several museums, parks and gardens.

Fan zones were a huge success at the 2006 World Cup, and Austria and Switzerland are trying to match the standards set by neighbouring Germany.

"That was so crazy, the atmosphere in the streets until two, three in the morning. The people in Germany were so happy to welcome the fans," said Reymond, who visited Cologne, Dortmund and Dusseldorf two years ago.

Lausanne will host one of 16 mini-arenas sponsored by UBS bank, bringing big-screen public broadcasts to small towns and cities across Switzerland.

"I know that the neighbours won't be happy at the music after 11 o'clock and they will complain," Reymond said.

Mutschler walks a typically diplomatic Swiss line.

"It must be clear that we can't have every day a party going on until morning, so there are certain rules that have to be respected," he said. "It also asks for a little bit of tolerance from the people not going."

The giant screens are important because so few fans managed to get match tickets. Six of the eight stadiums hold barely more than 30000, and UEFA has been criticised for giving too many tickets to sponsors, guests and politicians.

"I understand that everyone wants to go to a party. Sometimes I ask myself, 'where are those football fans when every week I see the empty stadiums?'" Mutschler said.

It doesn't fuel home fervour that most of the Swiss team plays abroad and the national team, like Austria, is enduring a terrible run of results.

Michael Kriess, son of Werner Kriess, who played 15 times for Austria in the early 1970s, jokingly started an online petition to have the team withdrawn from the tournament. About 6000 people actually signed up, backing Kriess' opinion that watching the national team "means you fall into a dismal state of depression". - Sapa-AFP