LONDON – A tournament intended to be a celebration of European soccer will instead reflect many of the uncertainties that have beset the sport during the coronavirus pandemic.
Just completing the European Championship a year later than planned — with teams flying around Europe to play games — will be a triumph on a continent trying to supress new coronavirus variants.
UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin inherited a complex plan from Michel Platini that he has long held reservations about, even before the coronavirus outbreak added to the logistical complexities.
“It’s quite a tough situation, a tough format by itself, and with COVID it’s even tougher," Ceferin told The Associated Press. "So it’s not easy but now it looks OK and I can’t imagine that this crisis will be worse.”
The risk of coronavirus infections is increased the more travel for the 24 teams there is, as well as adding to the workload on players after a pandemic-congested season.
“It actually makes it harder, because you have more travel, less recovery etc.,” said Jonas Baer-Hoffmann, the general secretary of world players’ union FIFPRO. “We have seen that travel is a substantial risk factor to any of the COVID protocols that professional sports have undertaken.”
At least the number of UEFA member associations staging games was dwindled down from 13 to 11 after Belgium was cut before the pandemic and Dublin lost its games more recently because Ireland isn't able to guarantee having fans.
The event should still be the first chance for the widespread return of fans to stadiums around Europe since March 2020, assuming new restrictions aren’t imposed. But not all supporters will be able to travel to games, impacting atmosphere and UEFA’s revenue streams.