The Brief, powered by Martens Centre – Football in the time of COVID

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [EPA-EFE/Robert Perry/POOL]

The idea to have a continent-wide Euro 2020 was a romantic idea when it was first proposed in the salubrious days of 2012. But to plough ahead with it in 2021 – as national authorities are scrambling to prevent COVID-19 variants from spreading – smacks of pig-headedness.

With grim predictability, UEFA’s decision to host the tournament across 11 stadiums – a one-off “celebration” of 60 years of the Euros – is proving problematic during a pandemic.

To host a match, cities must commit to at least 25% spectator attendance. When Irish authorities, concerned over rising cases, refused to guarantee fan numbers, UEFA dropped Dublin as a host.

Europe’s various testing and quarantine requirements present travelling supporters with a nightmarish puzzle to decode. Some Croatia fans, for example, went to the UK two weeks before the 11 June England-Croatia game to make sure they completed their quarantine in time to be allowed into the stands.

Even within the bloc’s free-travel Schengen zone (fragmented and complicated during the pandemic), there are stark differences in what is expected of visitors.

In Russia, St. Petersburg – which is set to hold seven fixtures in total – has seen an explosion of coronavirus cases in recent days. Moscow’s Euro 2020 fan zone has already closed due to the worsening health situation in the country.

England presents another vexing issue for organisers as the Euro finals are slated to be held at Wembley, one of London’s grandest sporting venues.

But some European leaders are concerned that the highly contagious delta variant, now common in the UK, will cross over and flare up on the continent following the tournament.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has already called for the Euro final to be moved from London to Rome’s Stadio Olimpico, citing the infection rate in England as a serious health risk (the chance of an on-form Italian team potentially playing in front of a home crowd being an unintended bonus).

Several EU countries have placed stricter rules on UK travel: Should the Red Devils make it to the finals, Belgian residents who make the trip to London will be forced to quarantine for 10 days upon their return home.

And the impacts of making the tournament a travelling circus extend beyond health. Having fans fly to destinations across the continent sends emissions soaring, leaving a carbon footprint considerably higher than if the tournament had been held in one country.

Aware of public sensitivity over climate issues, UEFA said they will offset the tournament emissions through planting forests. But as any environmentalist will tell you, carbon offsets are less a solution than a form of greenwashing.

In addition to health and environmental concerns, the tournament has also found itself in a “health washing” controversy (that’s like greenwashing, but with abs drawn in marker on a beer belly).

Cristiano Ronaldo recently caused a stir when he appeared to encourage people to choose water over Coca-Cola at a press conference, a seemingly sensible move that reportedly knocked a staggering $4 billion off the American drinks giant’s market value.

There is a disconnect here. It’s legitimate to ask why companies are using the best athletes in the world – whose job requires them to be in top condition – to sell soft drinks and beer and other products they probably don’t consume.

All said, even the most beautiful game may not be enough to cover the harsh realities of football in the time of COVID.

A message from Martens Centre: EIF 2021 is coming!

Returning on 29-30 June as the European Ideas Forum, the Martens Centre flagship event takes on a broader scope to address some of the most pressing EU challenges! Stay tuned!

The Roundup

Europe has to play its role in leading on the sustainability of outer space and could increasingly contribute to the creation of a regulatory framework for space, the head of the European Space Agency (ESA) told EURACTIV upon launch of the EU’s new space programme.

The EU must apply consistent pressure on the repressive Belarusian regime until it responds to calls for dialogue, exiled democratic opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.

The European Commission laid out on Wednesday its vision for a Joint Cyber Unit to tackle evolving cyberthreats and to increase European resilience.

EU nationals living in the UK have a week until a 30 June deadline to apply for settled status, after officials confirmed that the cut-off date would not be extended.

As the European Commission starts endorsing national recovery plans submitted by EU countries, campaigners are growing concerned that the EU executive may not fully enforce the fund’s green spending target.

A ruling by Europe’s top court has shed some light on the conditions under which content-sharing platforms are exempted from responsibility for copyright infringements, with potentially far-reaching implications for the EU’s Copyright Directive and the Digital Services Act.

Look out for…

  • Parliament’s Plenary Session on 23 – 24 June.
  • EU leaders meet for a Council in Brussels on 24-25 June. 
  • Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič hosts España 2050 foresight event in Brussels with Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez.

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Josie Le Blond]

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