How can the tournament survive the COVID-19 crisis?

There are still just over 150 days to go until the postponed Euro 2020. While Europe is still struggling to control the COVID-19 pandemic, the prospect of a clash between Italy and Turkey in the eleventh game of the tournament seems far away. June in Rome so far away that it hardly seems plausible. But despite the uncertainty and concern about the deteriorating situation in Europe, where the number of infections has increased in many countries over the past month, UEFA is trying to prepare for a successful tournament. Sources tell ESPN that UEFA has three possible scenarios and formats for Euro 2020.

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A final decision on the form of Euro 2020 should be taken in mid-March. UEFA will decide it’s too late to wait for Congress on the 20th. April to reorganize and decide on ticket sales for the reformulation of the tournament – if the fans are admitted.

Ninety percent of the tickets were sold before the pandemic started, and according to some sources only a minimal number of tickets were returned for reimbursement. So UEFA had a problem when the restrictions were imposed on the spectators, not when they were imposed.

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At this stage of the pandemic, and five months before the tournament, it is certain that Euro 2020 will not be played in front of the crowded stadiums in the continent’s twelve host cities. Ideally, the stadiums should not be more than 70% full and the basic emergency plan should only be used for 30% in case the implementation of the vaccines by summer does not allow any normality.

A third option, considered unlikely by UEFA according to some sources, is a tournament held behind closed doors in one country, with strict control of safe COVID bubbles for each team. This scenario is a much broader version of the Champions League and European League games, which ended in August last year in Portugal and Germany respectively.

Football in Europe today is under pressure from COWID-19. In England, the year 2021 began with widespread delay at all levels of the game as a result of a series of positive tests. Meanwhile, in Spain, Barcelona postponed their practice earlier this week after the club received two positive messages.

Last month UEFA announced the cancellation of the 2021 U17 men’s and women’s championships in Cyprus and the Faroe Islands in May. According to her, the current epidemiological situation in many parts of Europe makes it unrealistic to organise competitions for young people in the first months of 2021. But after last March’s decision to postpone Euro 2020, sources say that cancelling this year is simply not an option. This will continue somehow, because if it does not, the financial damage will be devastating for many of the 55 national associations in Europe and for UEFA’s development initiatives and programmes, which depend on income from major tournaments.

Finding a safe and acceptable way to organize the tournament is a big challenge for UEFA.

Fault! The file name is not specified. UEFA President Alexander Zeferin is preparing for the organisation of the European Championship in the event of a global pandemic. Photo: Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Who is the host? What is the safety level?

All host cities had until mid-December to submit a Plan A and a Plan B to UEFA, indicating whether they could host 70% and 30% of their capacity respectively and whether they could house and transport fans in June and July under any COVID restrictions.

Despite fears that some cities might withdraw from the tournament as a result of the pandemic, all 12 cities confirmed their willingness to proceed as planned, with their Plans A and B ready to be implemented as soon as UEFA has made a decision on the tournament’s set-up. But until the pandemic situation improves to the point where the fans can be present, UEFA has yet to find a country that is capable – and capable – of hosting a 24-team tournament equipped with COVID.

According to some sources, there are four possible options, but none of them is considered to be problem-free, either from a sporting or political point of view. The country should also be able to provide training facilities and accommodation for all 24 teams, leaving UEFA with few eligible candidates.

With the support of the government, the English Football Association is ready to welcome the players if necessary. The Wembley Stadium already has seven matches scheduled, including the semi-finals and finals. Glasgow’s Hampden Park, which has three group games and a round of 16 reserved seats, was also able to host the British Bubble Tournament. But now that the UK has the highest infection and mortality rates in Europe, combined with the impact of Brexit, it would be difficult for UEFA to sell England and Scotland as hosts.

France, hosting Euro 2016, and Germany, hosting Euro 2024, are also considered for football infrastructure and stadiums in their respective countries, but France ranks second, after the United Kingdom, for COWID-19 and has not shown much enthusiasm for organising another euro. Meanwhile, Germany is again a difficult event and the country is focused on organizing the last match of the World Cup in 2024.

Russia, host of the World Cup in 2018, is the fourth option, where the bubble is limited to the stadiums in St. Petersburg and Moscow. There would be five suitable places in that bubble, but given the two-year worldwide doping ban imposed on the country last month, it would be politically insensitive for UEFA to approach Russia about organizing a tournament.

However, the change of host country is the worst case scenario and UEFA is optimistic that Euro 2020 will be as close as possible to its original format.

Time will tell, but time is running out. Next Tuesday the 150-day countdown starts. The clock is really ticking.

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