UEFA president Michel Platini has decided that desperate times require desperate measures. Despite the pandemic, still unabated in some parts of the world, he has ruled out the possibility of cancelling the UEFA championship. UEFA’s decision was not dictated by the belief that sports help people get through tough times and, therefore, should be practiced and watched. Platini could not call the Euro 2020 off for purely economical reasons: postponing the event has already incurred large losses. UEFA has suffered a loss of 300 million euros and would have added another two billions to this amount if the championship had been cancelled. To avoid accumulating more losses, Platini had to design an ingenious plan on how to run the tournament in the world rattled by the pandemic.
What distinguishes the Euro 2020 from the previous Euro championships is that, for the first time in the history of football, it will be hosted in eleven countries. Footballers and their fans will need to cross the continent repeatedly during the tournament, since it is being held in Saint Petersburg, Glasgow, Copenhagen, London, Amsterdam, Munich, Budapest, Bucharest, Seville, Rome, and Baku. UEFA is thus making this time a truly grand gesture, bringing together diverse cultures, climates, ideologies, and religions.
The new format of the tournament is complex. While usually it is one country or maximum two that host the entire championship, in 2021, nine of the twenty-four teams play games at home. Six teams out of these nine – England, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, and Denmark – get the privilege to play all their group games on their native lands. The game schedule is so distributed that should the English team become the leader in its group, it might play its pre-quarterfinal at home as well. In the case of England winning the quarterfinal, its fans will not travel to another country to watch the semifinal and the final.
Michel Platini had two reasons to devise such an unusual format for the Euro 2020: economy and fans. He said that in such economically unstable times as ours it would be unfair to make one country bear the brunt of the championship’s expenses. The cost of the tournament should be split between several countries. Nor did UEFA want to host the event exclusively in strong countries, relatively undamaged economically by the pandemic, such as England, Germany, Spain, or Italy. When travelling through the world is still restricted, hosting all games in these countries would unfairly privilege the local fans. Most of the football lovers would have no choice but to watch the Euro 2020 broadcast on their televisions. To promote equality, UEFA has decided to come to the fans.
Yet however lofty ideas have inspired UEFA’s plan, its drawbacks are evident. It presupposes complicated logistics. Instead of preparing one or two countries for the tournament, UEFA had to equip almost the whole of Europe for the large event. Holding the Euro 2020 in one country, as is usually done, would be less costly and tiring. Nor are matches at home equally distributed between the teams. While England, Germany, Spain, Italy, and Netherlands are privileged to play all their group games at home, other teams are obliged to traverse the continent. Some teams gain almost no home advantage, in contrast to these elite teams. Although UEFA organizes the tournament under the banner of equality and democracy, its critics view its egalitarianism as more apparent than real.
Criss-crossing Europe during the time of the pandemic is not an easy feat. Every country has different pandemic protocols and visa rules. If a team needs to fly across Europe during the tournament, as does Wales, for example, which plays its two first games in Baku and its last two games in Rome, it will inevitably have logistical hurdles on the way. Travelling from country to country also increases the chances of getting infected with coronavirus, thus potentially converting the Euro 2020 into a risky, deadly game.
Other difficulties abound. Even such a seemingly uncomplicated issue as the exchange of currencies suddenly becomes problematic, since countries have different approaches to money and its conversion. Russia does not accept euros; other countries do not look kindly upon the Azerbadjanian currency. Climate is another cause for worry. Europe is so large that it has different seasons simultaneously. It is chilly and rainy now in the Netherlands and Denmark but scorchingly hot in Baku and Seville. Meteorologically dependent people will feel the ambitiousness of UEFA’s plan with their bodies, suffering different physical symptoms while traveling from one part of Europe to another.
Like everything in life, the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship has its evident merits and demerits. Spreading the tournament across Europe would have been more enjoyable and easier, if the pandemic had not stood in the way. Perhaps, for the 17th Championship, such a plan will work better. But whether UEFA’s arrangement is feasible in 2021 will become clear only in the middle of July, when the tournament has already been completed and the winner has brought home the trophy.