By Andrew Warshaw
March 3 – UEFA’s top brass were forced on the defensive today as they closed ranks over contingency plans for Euro 2020 – or lack of them – as a result of the spread of the coronavirus.
Despite announcing at its 55-nation congress it had set up a working group with the European Leagues, the umbrella body for domestic leagues, to handle any fixture congestion and “work on calendar issues”, one federation chief warned of potentially dire repercussions while reporters later bombarded UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin and his number two with specific questions about next summer’s 12-venue Euros.
Towards the end of a relatively low-key congress apart from Ceferin’s rousing address to delegates, Swiss FA president Dominique Blanc, whose country has called off all fixtures to limit the spread of the virus, warned of serious consequences to the sport.
“Due to the coronavirus we are in a situation that could shake, for a part of us, professional football to its foundations,” Blanc said. “If the situation persists we will not be able to avoid talking to UEFA about financial aid. It’s a worst case scenario but it cannot be dismissed out of hand.”
At a post-congress press conference, two-thirds of the questions were about UEFA’s thinking over the Euros but Ceferin and UEFA general-secretary Theo Theodoridis stood firm amid accusations they were downplaying the effects of the virus.
Asked if there was a deadline for moving the tournament elsewhere or calling it off, Ceferin, who has perfected the art of saying next to nothing in front of the media if there is any danger of compromising himself, gave a one-word “no”.
Earlier he said: “Let’s try to be optimistic and not think about dark scenarios. There’s time for that later. We have security concerns, political instability concerns and one of the concerns is the virus. We are dealing with it and we are confident we can deal with it.”
Theodoridis added: “We do not want to over-react but we have created a line of contact (with governments).”
Whether or not UEFA care to admit it, the timing of their Europe-wide showpiece competition could nevertheless not be worse especially given the fact that the tournament kicks off in Rome in the European country currently worst affected by the virus.
“The calendar is already congested,” said Theodoridis. “Any postponement of matches is quite challenging. We are aware the situation but do not want to start speculating what might happen in three or four months’ time”
Almost overlooked amid the ongoing narrative over Covid-19 was the appearance at Congress, and at the executive meeting 24 hours earlier, of Paris St Germain chief Nasser Al-Khelaifi despite his recent indictment by the Swiss attorney general.
There had been considerable speculation about whether the Qatari, one of the European Club Association’s two UEFA executive committee representatives, would show up.
Ceferin suggested there was no reason Al-Khelaifi should stand down from his position. Not yet anyway.
“From what I have followed, the charges of bribery are off (sic) and for me, the perception of innocence is very important,” he said.
Contact the writer of this story at email@example.com