Covid-19 forces UEFA to postpone Euro 2020 until summer 2021

By Andrew Warshaw

March 17 – UEFA has postponed Euro 2020 for a year until June 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic following an emergency video conference involving their 55 member nations plus the bodies representing Europe’s clubs and leagues.

The tournament, that was due to take place from June 12- July 12 this summer in 12 cities across the Continent to celebrate Uefa’s 60th anniversary, will now run from 11 June to 11 July next year (2021).

“We are at the helm of a sport that vast numbers of people live and breathe that has been laid low by this invisible and fast-moving opponent,” said UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin after announcing the unprecedented move.

“It is at times like these, that the football community needs to show responsibility, unity, solidarity and altruism.

“The health of fans, staff and players has to be our number one priority and in that spirit, UEFA tabled a range of options so that competitions can finish this season safely and I am proud of the response of my colleagues across European football.

“There was a real spirit of co-operation, with everyone recognising that they had to sacrifice something in order to achieve the best result.”

Ceferin admitted that postponing came “at a huge cost” but that the decision was “for the good of European football as a whole”.

Having done its best “to find a coherent plan to break the logjam of fixtures”, the decision  technically means there is now space in the calendar to complete the major domestic leagues that are all currently suspended including the so-called ‘Big Five’.

“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. “The move will help all domestic competitions, currently on hold due to the Covid-19 emergency, to be completed.”

Surprisingly after so much media speculation, UEFA stopped short of announcing fresh dates for the Champions League and Europa League which are on hold having reached the last-16 stage.

According to Marca in Spain, the Europa League final will be moved to Wednesday June 24, and the Champions League final to Saturday June 27  assuming that football returns in mid-April.

UEFA didn’t confirm any of this, however. Given that as yet no one knows how the virus will play out, UEFA simply said it had set up a working group to try and find suitable dates.

“All UEFA competitions and matches (including friendlies) for clubs and national teams for both men and women have been put on hold until further notice,” it said – except for Euro 2020 playoff games which had been scheduled for the end of this month. These will now be played in the international window at the start of June “subject to a review of the situation.”

French Football Federation president Noel le Graet said it was a “wise and pragmatic decision” by UEFA who took  a non-committal stance at their Congress in Amsterdam earlier this month but were left with little choice but to postpone the tournament given how much more powerful the virus has become in the days since, with players and officials testing positive as well as thousands of fans.

The only question was whether it would be rescheduled for December, right in the middle of the 2020-21 season and in the heart of winter, or stick to the traditional summer timescale which was ultimately considered far more palatable.

In all likelihood the tournament would have been postponed even if it had been played in a single country. But the fact that it is being held in 12 venues across the Continent gave UEFA a gigantic logistical headache.

Both the clubs and leagues had urged UEFA to prioritise completing domestic competitions, reflecting a concern that significant revenue would be lost by not completing the current season while still having to pay players’ salaries.

The first and most obvious knock-on effect of a year’s delay is what happens to the first ever expanded Club World Cup comprising 24 elite club sides including eight from Europe and currently pencilled in from June 17-July 4.

This is very much Gianni Infantino’s pet project and it remains to be seen whether FIFA agrees to compromise and move it back accordingly. The answer would appear to be yes, otherwise the tournament risks going ahead without most of its star players.

Ceferin and Infantino have not always seen eye to eye but in his statement the UEFA boss made a point of thanking his FIFA counterpart who, he said, “ has indicated it  (FIFA) will do whatever is required to make this new calendar work.”

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