A year late and shaken by the pandemic: Euro 2020 finally begins

The European football championships would have been an organizational success even without a coronavirus.

The 24 competing national teams will cross the continent for the first time to play matches in 11 stadiums from Glasgow to Baku – a change from the traditional model where one or two countries host all games.

To complicate matters even further, the pandemic has forced Uefa into the government of European football postpone the tournament for a year, while restrictions on the number of fans attending have led to a revision to the lower expected revenues of at least 300 million euros, mainly due to the loss of tickets and money for hospitality .

With the action finally ending Friday at Rome’s Olympic Stadium, where Italy faces Turkey, the virus threat will create logistical headaches for the duration of the month-long show.

Worker organizes football game in a shop at Wembley Stadium before Euro 2020 © Neil Hall / EPA-EFE / Shutterstock

The organizers of Euro 2020 – the name of the tournament has not changed, since they are already printed on millions of articles of merchandise – have spent months negotiating with governments, football officials and medical officials to agree protocols strictures on travel organization and staging of matches.

The result was 10 million euros in additional costs for sanitary and hygienic measures. Uefa plans to conduct around 24,000 Covid-19 tests during the competition, a scheme that covers not only players, but anyone who may come into close contact: referees, team officials, even drivers.

The priority for the organizers will be to avoid a fire that could derail the tournament. “Players who are infected, teams can’t play – that’s the worst case scenario [scenario]”Said Martin Kallen, general manager of Uefa’s events division.

“There’s only one Ronaldo,” he added, referring to the Portugal star.

In Portugal Cristiano Ronaldo
Portugal’s talismanic striker Cristiano Ronaldo kicks off his country’s friendly match with Spain in Madrid this month © Javier Soriano / AFP via Getty Images

Efforts to pull off a major sporting event amid the pandemic will be closely watched by the event’s organizers. Tokyo Olympics, which will start just two weeks after the Euro 2020 final at London’s Wembley Stadium on 11 July.

The idea of ​​a football competition across the continent was dreamed up by Michel Platini, former captain of France and then president of Uefa.

He pushed the concept as a celebration of the world’s favorite game that reflected modern realities, with low-cost airlines and online booking sites making it easier for fans to participate.

The pandemic exposed the hubris behind the planes. Platini resigned in 2016 after a ethical investigation on an unregistered payment received from FIFA, the governing body of world football. His successor, Aleksander Ceferin, has spoken of moving the tournament to a single country like Russia or England because of the pandemic.

Supporters at the Stade de France, just north of Paris
Supporters prepare for Tuesday’s friendly between France and Bulgaria at the Stade de France © Franck Fife / AFP via Getty Images

It was decided that the original plan was easier to implement than to meet commercial contracts, although Ceferin said the experiment of holding the event across Europe is unlikely to be repeated.

As Uefa did not want the matches to be put in an empty square, Dublin and Bilbao, two original cities of origin, were forced to leave. Of those hosting matches, Budapest’s Puskas Arena will be the only one to open fully. The stadiums in St. Petersburg and Baku will operate at a capacity of 50 percent while others will be filled by a quarter.

Despite indications that the UK government could delay plans to lift coronavirus restrictions on 21 June, Uefa hopes the boards will be completed in time for Wembley to welcome 90,000 people by the end.

Unlike the Olympics, where organizers agreed to a deal with drug company Pfizer to offer vaccinations to athletes, Uefa decided that football inoculation would be too difficult to administer before the tournament.

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But club football competitions, such as the Champions League, have been held successfully similar protocols to those in place for Euro 2020.

Players will have to pass a Covid-19 test on arrival at a team’s training camp, after which they will enter a “bubble” cut from the outside world. They will be tested every two to four days while staying in hotels and enclosed spaces by other guests.

Food and laundry will be handled by team workers, rather than hotel staff. The stadiums will be divided into different “zones”, with the aim of preventing players from approaching anyone who has not undergone a regime test.

“It’s not what you choose, but everyone faces those difficulties,” said Gareth Southgate, English director, of restrictions. “We respect that so many people in the world haven’t been able to do their job the way we did.”

There is an acceptance that it may be impossible to keep the virus at bay. Sergio Busquets, captain of the Spanish team, tested positive for the virus last week, forcing the whole team to isolate themselves.

People walk by a Euro 2020 advertising ball in Baku, Azerbaijan

People walk around with a sphere advertising Euro 2020 in Baku, Azerbaijan, which will host the Wales vs Switzerland game on Saturday © Jean-Christophe Bott / EPA-EFE / Shutterstock

If it is repeated during the tournament, Uefa will need matches to move forward if at least 13 players from the team of 26 from each country can play. Unnecessarily, teams may be forced to write in youth or to reserve players for short periods to complete games. Another option would be to delay the matches for no more than two days.

There are also contingency plans to move the games to other cities if a Covid-19 source forces a country to pull out of the stage.

“The most likely scenario is that we have happy fans and that we will not have big problems with Covid,” said Daniel Koch, health adviser to the Euro 2020 organizers.

“This tournament does not change the outcome of the pandemic,” he added, but it could help “in a good way if people are happier.”

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