One year late and plagued: Euro 2020 finally kicks off

The European Football Championship would have been an organizational feat even without the coronavirus.

The 24 national teams competing for the first time will tour the continent 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 further, the pandemic has forced UEFA to do so Tournament postponed By a year, while restrictions on the number of fans in attendance led to a downward revision of projected revenue of at least €300 million, mainly due to lost ticket and hospitality funds.

With the event finally kicking off Friday at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, with Italy facing Turkey, the virus threat will create logistical headaches for the month-long run of the show.

A worker arranges football merchandise in a shop at Wembley Stadium ahead of Euro 2020 © Neil Hall/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Organizers of Euro 2020 – the tournament’s name has not changed, with millions of items already printed on merchandise – have spent months negotiating with governments, football executives and medical officials to agree strict protocols on travel arrangements and the organization of matches.

The result was €10 million in additional costs for health and hygiene measures. UEFA expects to conduct about 24,000 tests for Covid-19 during the competition, a system that includes not only players, but anyone who may be in close contact: referees, team officials and even coach drivers.

The organizers’ priority will be to avoid an outbreak that could derail the tournament. “Players injured, teams can’t play – this is the worst case [scenario]Martin Kalin, chief executive of UEFA’s events division, said:

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

Cristiano Ronaldo Portugal
Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo lines up during his country’s friendly match with Spain in Madrid this month. © Javier Soriano / AFP via Getty Images

Organizers will closely monitor efforts to launch a mega sporting event in the midst of the pandemic. Tokyo OlympicsWhich is due to start just two weeks after the Euro 2020 final at Wembley Stadium in London on July 11.

The idea of ​​a continent-wide football competition was dreamed up by Michel Platini, the former captain of the French national team and then president of the European Football Association.

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

The pandemic exposed the arrogance behind the plans. Platini resigned in 2016 after a while achieve morals An unregistered payment was received from FIFA, world football’s governing body. His successor, Aleksander Ceferin, has held talks about moving the tournament to one country such as Russia or England due to the pandemic.

Supporters in the Stade de France, just north of Paris
Fans prepare for France’s friendly match with Bulgaria at the Stade de France on Tuesday. © Franck Fife / AFP via Getty Images

It was decided that the original plan was easier to implement rather than de-selecting binding commercial contracts, although Ceferin said the experience of holding the event across Europe was unlikely to be repeated.

As UEFA did not want the matches to be held in an empty ground, Dublin and Bilbao, the two original host cities, were forced to withdraw. Among those that will host the matches, Puskas Arena in Budapest will be the only one to be fully opened. Stadiums in Saint Petersburg and Baku will operate at 50 per cent capacity while some others will be a quarter full.

Despite signs that the UK government may reinstate its plans to lift coronavirus restrictions on June 21, UEFA hopes the restrictions will end in time for Wembley to host 90,000 people in the final.

Unlike the Olympics, where organizers agreed a deal with the pharmaceutical company Pfizer to provide vaccinations to athletes, UEFA decided that it would be very difficult to vaccinate football players before the tournament.

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But club football competitions, such as the Champions League, have been successfully held with Similar protocols To those at Euro 2020.

Players will need to pass a Covid-19 test when they arrive at the team’s training camp, after which they enter a “bubble” cut off from the outside world. They will be tested every two to four days while they are staying in hotels and areas closed from other guests.

Food and laundry will be handled by staff, rather than hotel staff. The stadiums will be divided into different ‘zones’, with the goal of preventing players from approaching anyone who has not undergone a strict testing regime.

“It’s not what you would choose, but everyone has those difficulties,” England manager Gareth Southgate said of the restrictions. “We respect that so many people in the world have not been able to do their jobs the way we do.”

There is an acceptance that it may be impossible to keep the virus out. Sergio Busquets, captain of the Spanish team, tested positive for the virus last weekend, forcing the entire team to self-isolate.

People walk with the ball to announce Euro 2020 in Baku, Azerbaijan

People walk past a ball announcing the European Championship 2020 in Baku, Azerbaijan, which will host Wales’ match against Switzerland on Saturday. © Jean-Christophe Bott / EPA-EFE / Shutterstock

If this is repeated during the tournament, UEFA will require matches to continue if at least 13 players from each of the 26 players can play. If not, teams may have to recruit in youth or reserve players at short notice to meet fixtures. Another option is to postpone matches for no more than two days.

There are also contingency plans to move the games to other cities if the Covid-19 surge forces a country to withdraw from organizing it.

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

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

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