Virus outbreak pushes Euro 2020 football cup to 2021

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo reacts during the UEFA Euro 2020 qualifier soccer match with Lithuania at Algarve Stadium in Faro, Portugal, 14 November 2019. [Photo: EPA-EFE/LUIS FORRA]

Europe’s football governing body UEFA decided on Tuesday (17 March) to delay the Euro 2020 tournament one year, as the coronavirus outbreak forced the organisation’s hand after threatening to play havoc with the sporting calendar.

UEFA held a series of crisis meetings today to weigh up its response to the ongoing pandemic, which has postponed all of Europe’s main domestic leagues.

During a video conference between all of its 55 member associations, UEFA agreed that this summer’s Euro championship – which is scheduled to be a pan-European affair for the very first time – must be delayed.

The postponement means that domestic leagues like the English Premiership, Italy’s Serie A and Germany’s Bundesliga can all wrap up during the summer months, if the virus peaks in the short-term.

Norway’s football association first confirmed that Euro 2021 – as it will now be known – will be held between 11 June and 11 July 2021, rather than 12 June and 12 July 2020.

“The health of all those involved in the game is the priority, as well as to avoid placing any unnecessary pressure on national public services involved in staging matches,” UEFA said in a statement.

The decision was given the green light at a meeting of UEFA’s executive meeting later on Tuesday and the last round of Euro qualifying matches – scheduled for the end of March – were moved to the first week of June, pending a review of the unfolding situation.

Other UEFA-organised competitions like the Champions League club competition were also shelved for the time-being.

Counterattack

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said two weeks ago at a conference in Amsterdam that it would be best not to contemplate “dark scenarios” like delaying the tournament. But the number of coronavirus cases in Europe has sky-rocketed since.

“Moving Euro 2020 comes at a huge cost for UEFA but we will do our best to ensure that the vital funding for grassroots, women’s football and the development of the game in our 55 countries is not affected. Purpose over profit has been our guiding principle,” Ceferin said.

Football associations had hoped before the UEFA meeting that a delay would be on the cards. Italian federation head Gabriele Gravina said the Euro should be postponed, while the Azzurri’s coach, Roberto Mancini, also called for a 12-month pushback.

“We would have won the European Championship this summer, we can also win it in 2021,” Mancini told television station Rai Sport.

The head of the German Bundesliga, Christian Seifert, also called for a delay, saying before the UEFA decision that “the probability that we have a perfect Euro this summer is measured by a number close to zero”.

It is likely to cause scheduling conflicts with other football tournaments such as the African Cup of Nations. The sport’s global governing body, FIFA, had also planned to launch its revamped Club World Cup in June and July of 2021. China will host the competition.

Other sports like Formula One, Moto GP and rugby have all postponed or all-out cancelled events, while the International Olympic Committee will also meet today to discuss this summer’s planned Tokyo Olympics.

Its organisers have so far remained adamant that the quadrennial event will go ahead as planned.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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