There are still a little more than 150 days until the start of the delayed Euro 2020. With Europe still fighting to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, the prospect of Italy meeting the curtain for Turkey on June 11 in Rome seems a faraway horizon it seems hardly credible to look at. Despite the uncertainty and concern about the worsening situation in countries across Europe, where the infection rate has risen sharply in many countries over the past month, UEFA is still trying to find a sure path to a successful tournament. Sources tell ESPN that UEFA has three possible Euro 2020 scenarios and formats.
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A final decision on what Euro 2020 will look like is due in mid-March. Within UEFA it is accepted that the wait for the Congress on April 20th is too late to allow reorganization and the issue of ticket sales – if fans are allowed – for a redesigned tournament.
Ninety percent of tickets were sold prior to the pandemic, and sources have indicated that only a “minimal” number were returned for a refund, causing UEFA a problem if and not when crowd restrictions are imposed.
In this phase of the pandemic and five months before the start of the tournament, it is far from certain that Euro 2020 will not be played before full stadiums in the 12 host cities on the continent. The best scenario is that the stadiums are not more than 70% busy and the property backup plan is only 30% busy if the introduction of the vaccine does not ensure normalcy by summer.
The third option, considered highly unlikely, according to sources within UEFA, is a tournament held in a country behind closed doors with strict COVID-safe bubbles for every team. This scenario would require a much larger version of the eight-team Champions League and Europa League competitions from last season, which ended in Portugal and Germany respectively last August.
Football in Europe is currently struggling to cope with the pressures of COVID-19. In England, 2021 has started with widespread postponements at all levels of the game as the number of positive tests has increased. In Spain, Barcelona postponed training earlier this week due to two positive cases at the club.
Just last month, UEFA announced the cancellation of the U21 championships for men and women in 2021, which are due to take place in Cyprus and the Faroe Islands in May. “The current epidemiological situation in many parts of Europe accounts for this.” It is unrealistic to hold youth competitions in the first few months of 2021. “Following the decision last March to postpone Euro 2020, sources say canceling it this year is simply not an option. It will continue in some form as the financial damage, if not done, will worsen for many of the 55 European national associations and UEFA’s initiatives and development programs, all of which rely on the proceeds of major tournaments to function, would prove to be ruinous.
Finding a safe and acceptable way to host the tournament is UEFA’s great challenge.
Who is hosting? And how safe is it?
All host cities were required to submit a Plan A and a Plan B to UEFA by mid-December, outlining their options for hosting matches with a capacity of up to 70% or 30%, and whether they could accommodate traveling supporters and transport within the scope of possible COVID restrictions in June and July.
Despite fears that some cities would withdraw as hosts due to the pandemic, all 12 confirmed their willingness to proceed as planned. Plan A and Plan B can be triggered as soon as UEFA determines the tournament format. However, if the situation with the pandemic does not improve enough for fans to participate, it will be a challenge to find a country that is able and suitable to host a COVID-safe 24-team tournament.
Sources have said there are four possible options, but none are seen as unproblematic, either from a sporting or political point of view. The country also needs to be able to provide training facilities and accommodation for 24 teams so that UEFA has few realistic candidates.
With government support, the English Football Association is ready to host it if necessary. Wembley will already host seven games, including both the semi-finals and the final, while Glasgow’s Hampden Park, which is slated for three group games and a round of 16, could also take part in a bubble tournament in Great Britain. With the UK having the highest infection and death rates in Europe, along with the effects of Brexit, UEFA would find it difficult to sell England hosted by Scotland.
France to host Euro 2016 and Germany to host Euro 2024 are also being considered because of the infrastructure and football stadiums in each country, but France is, and it has, second only to the UK in terms of COVID-19 cases there was little enthusiasm within the country to take on the task of hosting another euro. Germany is another tough sale as the country is focused on holding the 2024 final.
Russia, hosting the 2018 World Cup, is the fourth option. The bladder is restricted to stadiums in St. Petersburg and Moscow. That bubble would contain five suitable venues, but with the country affected by a two-year worldwide sports ban Last month, it would be politically insensitive for UEFA to turn to Russia as a substitute organizer for their flagship tournament for doping violations.
Moving to a host country is the worst case scenario, however, and UEFA is optimistic that it can bring Euro 2020 as close to its original shape as possible.
Time will tell, but time is running out too. The 150-day countdown to the opening game will start next Tuesday. The clock is really ticking.