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Saturday, June 12, 2021

Explained: The complications of holding Euro 2021 in 11 countries during pandemic

The Euro 2021 will travel to 11 countries, tracing the length and breadth of the continent. The tournament will be spread from Bilbao to St Petersburg, Dublin to Baku, binding diverse cultures and climes, ideals and ideologies.

Written by Sandip G , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: June 11, 2021 11:51:20 am
A big ball with the Euro 2020 logo is set in front of the town hall in Copenhagen, Denmark, Thursday, June 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

For the first time in sporting history, a multi-team event would be hosted in more than three countries. The Euro 2021 will travel to 11 countries, tracing the length and breadth of the continent.

The tournament will be spread from Bilbao to St Petersburg, Dublin to Baku, binding diverse cultures and climes, ideals and ideologies. But the now beleaguered UEFA president Michel Platini’s vision of a pan-European tournament has its supporters and naysayers.

How does the format play out?

Nine of the 24 teams have games at home, as opposed to usually one country hosting the entire tournament or splitting the games with a neighbour.

Of the nine, six get to play all their group games in their backyard—England, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Denmark. If England emerge toppers of the group, they could play their pre-quarterfinal also at home.

And if they manage to win the quarterfinal on the road, they could end up playing the semifinal and final too at home.

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What was the purported logic behind a spread-out championship?

Platini, when announcing the tournament’s format, surmised two massive benefits of a pan-continent tournament. Fans and economy. At a time of economic uncertainty, UEFA did not want to burden a country without sufficient infrastructure. The load of expenses, instead, would be shared.

The classic case was the 2012 tournament, co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine, two countries with less than robust economies. One of the stadiums refurbished for the Euros, Arena Lviv, is on the verge of getting demolished owing to maintenance charges and debts to the tune of 350,000 pounds. Demolition would apparently cost less than maintaining the facilities. There, definitively, is the alternative of hosting the tournament in powerhouses, sportingly and economically, like England or Germany, Spain or Italy, where the infrastructure is intact and the cost of refurbishing stadiums would be minimal. But such a measure would destroy the inclusivity of the tournament and scupper UEFA’s expansionist drive. Besides, more home games mean more chances of the stadium running full house. As Platini said in Kiev that evening, “Euros would be coming to the fans.”

A view of the stadium prior to an Italian national team training session ahead of Friday’s Euro 2020, group A soccer match against Turkey, at the Rome Olympic stadium, Thursday, June 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, Pool)

What did his critics say?

His critics dismissed the idea as over-ambitious and just another ploy to leverage votes of the smaller nations. It posed both logistical hurdles—equipping one or two countries for a big tournament is easier than preparing nearly an entire continent to host a tournament as big as the Euros. While some teams could play in the comfort of their homes, others have to criss-cross the continent. Some were to have massive home advantage and some none at all. Invariably, it is the elite teams that have benefitted.

What is the bearing of the pandemic on the format?

When Platini envisioned the pan-European project, little then had he, or the world, factored in the havoc the pandemic would wreak. A tough format was only made tougher by the pandemic. The organisers are grappling with the myriad complexities. Now, they have to create bubbles in each of the 11 cities. Travel, now, is riskier, and suddenly Europe looks larger, the two cities at the opposing ends of the continent, Bilbao and Baku, are 5500 kilometres apart. Crossing borders is not as smooth as it used to be.

The protocols are different in every country. More travel means more vulnerability to getting infected and less recovery time. For instance, Wales travel to Baku for the first two games, then fly out to Rome for the last. With travel rules, visa regulations and pandemic protocols (England will allow only those with a vaccine passport) being altered by governments, the logistics become more difficult. “It’s very complicated and now it’s even more complicated,” admitted UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin to Associated Press.

“We always have to have a plan, B, C or D,” confided CEO Martin Kallen.

People walk under national teams soccer jerseys advertising the upcoming Euro 2020 soccer championship are displayed in Baku, Azerbaijan, Thursday, June 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

Apart from security arrangements, healthcare and quarantine arrangements too need to be installed. They now have to not only factor in but also imagine a variety of possibilities that would not have been in the picture otherwise. Like what if a player or support staff or officials get infected? What if another wave of the virus hits a city?

Not to forget the differences in climate and currency. Russia won’t take the euro, just as Italy would scowl at manat, the currency of Azerbaijan. It’s summer in Baku and spring in St Petersburg.

Why did UEFA not cancel the tournament?

As such, postponing the event has incurred massive losses. They have, according to AP, suffered a loss of 300 million euros, another two billion is on the line if the tournament fails to take off. Moreover, the governing body has coughed up 235 million euros to help its 55 member associations cope with the pandemic.

Numerous sponsors too have a stake—the reason Euro 2020 was not changed to Euro 2021. Rebranding would have crushed the sport’s economy. So it was unthinkable to cancel the tournament.

What is the future of this format?

Never ever, says Ceferin. A lot would depend on the success of the tournament. A smooth tournament could result in a more refined version.

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