BERLIN (AFP, REUTERS) - Bayern Munich chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, a major figure in European football, says Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin is considering holding this year's European Championship in a single country, and not in 12 as originally planned.
The delayed Euro 2020 Finals, scheduled to be played in 12 host cities across Europe from June 11 until July 11, have already been pushed back a year due to problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The host cities are Glasgow, Dublin, Bilbao, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Munich, Rome, St Petersburg, Bucharest, Budapest and Baku, with the semi-finals and final set for London's Wembley. The 24-team, month-long showpiece is a major revenue generator for Europe's football governing body and national federations.
However, high numbers of the virus across the continent are threatening to force another rethink.
"One must not forget that the idea of this special tournament was born when the coronavirus did not yet exist," Rummenigge told Munich-based newspapers Muenchner Merkur/TZ.
"At the time, it was an initiative of the EU Commission, which wanted football to be represented throughout Europe.
"But I know that Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin - who is incredibly careful with Covid-19 - is thinking about whether it wouldn't make more sense... to play the tournament in just one country."
A Uefa spokesman did not deny the suggestion to AFP on Tuesday (Jan 19), but said there is "no information" and "no comment to make at this stage".
The spokesman said that Uefa is continuing to work on the basis the Finals will be held throughout Europe.
"In agreement with the 12 cities, we are currently working on four scenarios - full stadiums, stadiums between 50 and 100 per cent full, 20 to 30 per cent full, and behind closed doors," the spokesman added.
Uefa expects to announce a decision on whether the Finals can be held as planned on a "city by city" basis on March 5. The host cities have been asked to come up with two to three plans out of those options and it is possible different approaches will be taken in each venue.
Last week, it was reported that Ceferin had noted that vaccination programmes, which are moving at different speeds across the various host countries, would be the key to sticking to the original plan.
He had told Serbian newspaper Informer that "vaccination has started and I think we will be able to have full stands in the summer".
But the Slovenian added that "we are ready to organise competitions in 11, 10 or nine cities... and even only in one country, if necessary".
Given the broadcast deals in place for the tournament, Uefa has a strong commercial interest in the event taking place as planned. Even if the entire tournament had to be held without fans, it would still allow Uefa to meet its contractual requirements and avoid a major financial hit.
One threat to the tournament would come if, like last year, domestic leagues had to stop due to the pandemic, pushing back the club competitions.
So far, European leagues, with strict protocols in place for secure games without fans, have been able to continue playing, although plans for the return of fans have been affected by the recent third wave of Covid cases across Europe.