Euro 2020: Chasing a trophy across Europe during Covid times

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It begins in Rome and ends in London with stops in nine other countries. Twenty-four teams chasing a trophy over 51 games through cities as disparate as St Petersburg and Seville; Baku and Budapest. No counter-intelligence fiction this but wanderlust meeting football to celebrate the European championship turning 60. Or, 61 as it turns out.

When Michel Platini floated the plan in 2012, he had 12 or 13 cities in mind. His fall from grace was still a few years away and as UEFA president, Platini had listed the positive of spreading the competition across Europe: little would need to be spent on building or refurbishing stadia. At a time when many venues hosting World Cup, European championship and Olympics had become white elephants, the idea found takers. The small detail of only Turkey making a serious bid to host the 2020 edition too must have influenced the plan.

“It is perhaps a bit of a zany idea but it is a good idea,” the former France captain and a midfield artist had said in December 2012.

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A European Summer of Football.(HT Photo)
A European Summer of Football.(HT Photo)

So, in 2014, UEFA listed 13 cities for this project. It wasn’t easy then and it isn’t easy now when a novel coronavirus changed the world forcing UEFA to defer the competition to 2021. In 2017, two years after corruption charges impaled Platini, Brussels exited as host because their 62,613-seater Euro stadium — one of the few being built — wouldn’t be ready. Four games slotted to Brussels came to Wembley, the irony of shifting from the headquarters of the European Union to a country that had by then voted to exit it being lost on nobody.

Wembley will host England’s group games, the semi-finals and the final and a round-of-16 tie that could have England playing Germany. That game was supposed to be in Dublin but the city couldn’t promise it would allow spectators because of Covid-19 and so was delisted by UEFA. Ditto Bilbao with Seville being a late substitute.

So the championship, still called Euro 2020, will have people in the stands instead of the canned noise of closed-door games we had got used to. Budapest has even said a full house is possible at Puskas Arena that can sit 67,889. Most other venues would hold between 25 to 100% with Wembley saying 50% attendance is possible for the semi-final and final. Projected attendance is expected to vary between 12,000 at Copenhagen and Amsterdam to Budapest with Baku and St Petersburg saying they can hold 34000 and stay physically distant.

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“It will be the perfect opportunity to show the world that Europe is adapting. Europe is alive and celebrating life. Europe is back,” said UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin who succeeded Platini.

Problem is, travel has now got way more complicated. Negative Covid-19 reports are mandatory and quarantine rules a challenge for fans and teams which have been allowed to register 26 players instead of the usual 23 to cope with Covid-19. Croatia and Czech Republic have decided against setting up base in Scotland because self-isolation is mandatory for 10 days for anyone coming in contact with a Covid-19 patient. That could mean a large swathe of players and staff in isolation during the June 11-July 11 competition.

“The federation received a recommendation from UEFA to change the location of its team base camp, due to the potential impact of the Scottish Covid-19 regulations on the national team’s daily routines,” said a release from the Croatia federation explaining why they would be based at home and not St Andrews. Supposed to stay in Edinburgh, the Czechs will now be in Prague.

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The fans too will face major challenges. Wales play two group games in Baku and one in Rome and those planning to see them live will first have to ignore a minister’s suggestion that it is best not to go abroad and then visit a country coloured amber on United Kingdom’s graded list. Amber means travellers will have to isolate at home for 10 days on return.

“While it is no longer illegal to travel, the FAW advises fans to make an informed choice about travelling to Baku and Rome. Attending the matches will not be deemed as essential travel,” a statement from the Wales federation said.

And if they are travelling from Baku to Rome, it will mean a 10-day quarantine on arrival, no questions asked. This when Wales’ games in Baku (v Turkey) and Rome (v Italy) are four days apart.

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Ceferin went along with Platini’s idea but has said having multiple countries as hosts was not easy “regardless of the pandemic.” Which explains why Euro 2024 will be held in Germany. You are allowed to be radical only once.

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