Who can — and will — host a Covid-secure tournament?
At 13:00 GMT today, the deadline for Euro 2020 ticket refunds passed. Whether you were a Wales fan planning a trip to Baku, a Swede going to Dublin or a North Macedonian going to Amsterdam, it was decision time. Now, you have to take your chances on whatever format the tournament, which begins on June 11, ends up taking.
UEFA has clarified that if games end up being staged more than 50km from the original venue, refunds will be available, but as planning steps up this week nothing is clear. The tournament, scheduled to take place in 12 cities across the continent, should have begun on June 12 last year before being postponed because of Covid. The idea of thousands of fans criss-crossing the continent, packing into stadiums and bars, may have seemed aspirational when the format was established in December 2012, but it now looks unworkable.
Over the past month various solutions have been discussed. Most obvious would be to hold every game in one country, perhaps behind closed doors — as happened with last season’s Champions League, when the last seven games were played in two stadiums in Lisbon. The understanding now is that UEFA, after consultation with the 12 cities, all of which have said they are ready to host at 50% capacity, will press ahead with the original schedule, while accepting some hosts may have to withdraw.
Just how practical that is will become clearer over the next couple of months. Moving to a single host is complex, logistically and politically. It’s not simply about finding stadiums to stage the games: there also needs to be accommodation and facilities for teams, officials, media and, possibly, fans while host cities and federations who lose out would seek compensation. Another postponement is impossible; with many of UEFA’s constituent members desperate for revenue, the tournament must go ahead.
Realistically, four countries have the capacity to step in: France, Germany, Russia and the UK. France hosted the last Euros and Germany will host the next one. Neither has much desire to volunteer this time. But Russia was an excellent World Cup host in 2018 and, like the UK, got an early start on its vaccine programme. There would be horse-trading. There have been suggestions Spain and Portugal would support a UK bid in return for a clear run at hosting the World Cup in 2030, a proposal the FA has dismissed: a Covid tournament is not in any sense the equivalent of a tournament in more normal times.
When Equatorial Guinea staged the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations after Morocco withdrew at the last minute over Ebola fears, their president Teodoro Obiang made great play of his nation saving the tournament for the continent. It’s easy to imagine that bailing out Europe would appeal to both Vladimir Putin and Boris Johnson — and this would need governmental support.
Even with political will, though, a major change of schedule would be a huge undertaking. Tournaments are often seven or eight years in the making. A final decision is expected in March, but by then it will probably be too late for major changes.