100 days to go but doubts over Euro

Issues like venue capacity and travelling fans to be decided, England could be single host

Wembley Stadium is scheduled to host seven Euro 2020 games, with full houses expected at the last five if things go according to plan.
Wembley Stadium is scheduled to host seven Euro 2020 games, with full houses expected at the last five if things go according to plan.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Today marks 100 days until the scheduled start of Euro 2020, but there remains much uncertainty about exactly how and where a competition that was postponed last year due to the coronavirus pandemic will take place.

The opening match between Turkey and Italy is due to be played in Rome on June 11, while seven matches are set to go ahead at Wembley in London, including both semi-finals and the final.

The decision by European football's governing body Uefa to stage the competition for the first time in 12 different cities was a logistical challenge even before travel was restricted by Covid-19.

Elite-level football has kept going thanks to rigorous testing protocols but has mostly been played in soul-less, empty stadiums.

Underlining the logistical challenges, a number of Champions League and Europa League games in recent weeks have been moved to neutral venues as a result of travel restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of the virus.

Uefa has so far stuck to its plan for London and Glasgow, as well as Dublin, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, St Petersburg, Bilbao, Munich, Budapest, Baku, Rome and Bucharest to host matches. But it has given all host cities until early April to say if they will be in a position to accommodate spectators and at what percentage of capacity.

"Fans are such a big part of what makes football special," said Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin in January. "We must allow ourselves the maximum space to allow their return to the stadiums."

The travel logistics, as well as the economic consequences of playing an international tournament behind closed doors, have forced Uefa to consider contingency plans. That has led to rumours that the whole event could be moved to one country if it meant selling more tickets.

With the United Kingdom's vaccination programme outstripping that of the other host nations, and with multiple large Premier League stadiums available to accommodate potentially thousands of fans, reports have emerged that England could step in to stage the entire tournament.

In an interview with The Sun published yesterday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose government unveiled plans to end all restrictions on social contact in England by June 21 last week, said the country is ready to host extra matches for the tournament.

"We are hosting the semis and the final," he said. "If they want any other matches that they want hosted, we're certainly on for that but at the moment, that's where we are with Uefa."

He told the tabloid that his government's ambitions went further in a joint United Kingdom and Ireland candidacy to host the 2030 World Cup.

England has hosted the tournament once before in 1966 - the only time it has won the trophy - and lost out for the hosting of the 2006 edition to Germany and the 2018 Finals to Russia.

"We are very, very keen to bring football home in 2030," said Johnson. "I do think it's the right place. It's the home of football, it's the right time. It will be an absolutely wonderful thing for the country."

Under the British government's road map out of lockdown, crowds of up to 10,000 could be allowed from May 17. A return to full crowds would be permitted at the earliest by June 21.

The semi-finals and final take place on July 6, 7 and 11, but the first game scheduled for London is on June 13. Should all go to plan, full crowds would be able to return for the final group game and last-16 match at Wembley.

After nearly a year of football behind closed doors, Uefa will be wary that interest among some fans could drop. Conditions for supporters wishing to travel to follow their teams may not be particularly comfortable either.

Ronan Evain, the executive director of Football Supporters Europe, an independent fans' association, said "the most likely best-case scenario will be that stadiums can be 25 to 30 per cent full" and added that many who had bought tickets are set to cancel their bookings.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 03, 2021, with the headline '100 days to go but doubts over Euro'. Subscribe