While I have defined “Europe” and “country” in terms of football, I have failed to do the same for “small”. I will now rectify this misalignment. Since there are so many different ways of “measuring” the size of a country, the definition will remain subjective. Let me start by saying that any country that is not large must be small, so defining a “large” country will do the job just as well. Population or territory don’t define a large country sufficiently well, we need some external measure of relative importance.
In order to get in line with my other definitions, I have come up with a football-related criterion of “largeness”. Its the largest football event – the FIFA World Cup. In the past 50 years the World Cup has been hosted by a select group of nations, that have been judged capable to hold such a big venue. Within Europe the club is even more select, with only 6 members. Strictly speaking 5, but Russia will hold the 2018 World Cup and by no means can be called a small country anyway, so it counts. This selection criterion gets nicely rid of Poland and Ukraine which I have been struggling with anyway. Dwarfed by much larger neighbours – Germany and Russia – these guys need each other just to organise the Euro 2012. Obviously they are not mighty enough to be called “large”. However, this leads to a new issue – Turkey. It has never hosted a World Cup and has no plans to host one for the coming years. Well, in my view it says more about Turkey than the selection criterion – just having the numbers (population of 80 million) doesn’t make you big.
As a check, we can look at the hosting of the Summer Olympic Games. In the post-war period, the Games have been hosted 8 times by a European country. The Helsinki Games have been postponed due to the war and don’t really count. The only other small country to have hosted the Games was Greece. While the pursuit of the Olympic dream can hardly be blamed for Greece’s current problems, it was not helpful to say the least. The event has proven that a small country just can’t handle it on its own. Scrapping Finland and Greece, obviously small countries, the list is almost the same as the list of the European countries that have hosted the World Cup. France is the big absent, but its not due to lack of trying. Poor Paris has put up a bid three times in the past 25 years, only to lose time and again (the French? Losing? Who would have thought…).
So where does this all put us? Ukraine, Poland and Turkey join the list of small European countries. Congratulations! And the big guys are: