With two of the three Pan-Euros outside the normal travel circuit this year, it opens the door to a skewed Championship.
Given the presence of the EU institutions in Brussels, there are frequent air routes to every major destination in Europe, heavily bolstered by a large number of Ryanair routes in and out of Charleroi. Combine this with Brussels being within driving distance of the majority of the most active clubs and it makes for a very accessible (from travel and cost point of view) venue.
The same could not be said of the other two venues this year; Guernsey and Limerick. Guernsey in particular, is an absolute nightmare, as mentioned in the previous entry. This is reflected by the necessity to cancel the Ladies round due to a lack of teams. The Men's Championship survives but with some threadbare panels expected to travel. I heard The Hague were struggling to get bodies and Stockholm couldn't get a team together at all. Lux are travelling as far as I know but I presume they are in the same situation as us.
Everyone understands that it is difficult and expensive for the likes of Guernsey and Jersey to participate so teams have made as big an effort as possible to travel this year. I can't see many teams doing it again considering the cost and the time off work required. A compromise for the future would be to host a tournament in somewhere like Rennes which is close to the crossing to the channel islancs. It is well connected by train from Paris and is within driving distance (just about) for a lot of teams and would require max half day off work. Still that wouldn't help the outliers in Scandinavia or Eastern Europe much.
When you don't have all the teams at each tournament it distorts the overall competition. Guernsey and Jersey will be red hot favourites for next weekend considering the struggles of so many teams to travel. With the competition being decided over just three tournaments, such an advantage is difficult to claw back for the rest.
The water gets further muddied by the final round being in Limerick. Again, this is a difficult venue to get to as the air routes in and out of Shannon are limited, especially on a Friday evening. Still, people can stomach taking a bit of time off work seeing as they can link in a visit home but it is still far from ideal. We are lucky in Brussels that there are a couple of flights to Dublin on a Friday but these are always expensive as they are full of politicos. Our other option is to drive to Amsterdam and then go to Cork or Dublin and go on to Limerick from there. Again, difficult without taking time off work and increasing cost.
Something that came up in a conversation with one of the lads from a competing club recently was the 'weekend' player. It is still within the rules to utilise a limited number of such players during a season. His team are considering bringing a couple of guys on board for the Limerick weekend. He recognises that a situation may occur whereby his club is already out of the running for the Championship but by bringing in such players, it could strengthen their hand and ruin the hopes of a team in contention. Is such distortion fair? And these are the guys talking about doing it above board. One can only imagine the shenanigans which may go on below the line.
We are now in a situation in Europe where our competitions are competitive and the majority of teams can easily field without fishing into the pool at home. The rule seems dated and inappropriate for the current state of the European game.
Staying on the whole player movement topic, I heard (but can't confirm it is true!) that one club processed eight transfers in recent weeks. The word is that these guys may indeed be living in the city they represent but the timing of the transfer suggests they may have waited until their home clubs have been knocked out. I'm not sure of the circumstances of these situations but how player transfers are handled in general probably needs reviewing. Is there a rule about playing in two County championships in one year with two different clubs (excluding Colleges)?
Another issue, but more linked to the final round (in any year) itself is that teams make an extra effort to attend. We had an example two years ago where Budapest arrived with a very strong team and created quite a stir. It was the only Pan-Euro they attended. In the end, The Hague saw off their challenge but how fair would it have been had they knocked out a contender in the semi-final despite not having taken part in any other round?
The structures and rules implemented in Europe were made at a certain point in time and I am sure they fitted the purpose then. With the game developing rapidly, it may now be time to review these and discuss whether they are still fit for purpose.