UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin has stated he will not endorse a repeat of the hosting strategy for Euro 2020, as the tournament gears up to conclude with the final between England and Italy at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.
Speaking today (Friday), Čeferin cited the strain on fans and teams of games spread across the continent. “I would not support it anymore,” he told BBC Sport. “In a way, it is not correct that some teams have to travel more than 10,000km while others have to only travel 1,000km.
“It is not fair to fans, who had to be in Rome one day and in Baku over the next few, which is a four-and-a-half-hour flight. We had to travel a lot, into countries with different jurisdictions, different currencies, countries in the European Union (EU) and non-EU, so it was not easy.
“It was a format that was decided before I came (into post) and I respect it. It is an interesting idea but it is hard to implement and I don’t think we will do it again.”
Indeed, the Euro 2020 format was the brainchild of Čeferin’s predecessor, Michel Platini, as a means of marking the 60th birthday of the national team tournament. In the end, UEFA’s Executive Committee in September 2014 chose 13 host cities across Europe, but this plan changed even pre-pandemic.
In December 2017, it was announced that Wembley would stage seven games after Brussels was stripped of its hosting rights. Brussels’ games were due to be played at the ill-fated Eurostadium, and UEFA opted to reassign the Belgian city’s matches to Wembley.
The decision to award more games to Wembley came as a blow to Cardiff’s Principality Stadium and Stockholm’s Friends Arena, which had both been placed on standby should Brussels drop out. Both venues unsuccessfully applied for hosting rights during the initial selection process carried out by UEFA.
With COVID-19 taking hold across the world, UEFA in March 2020 took the decision to postpone Euro 2020 by a year. At this point, the logistical challenge of hosting a major sporting event across multiple countries became even greater and the venue plan began to change once again.
With UEFA determined to ensure that Euro 2020 would take place with fans in attendance, a series of summit meetings were held earlier this year at which host venues were required to present stadium capacity guarantees.
In April, a definitive venue plan was agreed as Munich retained its hosting rights, with Bilbao and Dublin being dropped as host cities and their games for the rescheduled tournament reassigned to Seville, London and Saint Petersburg.
On April 9, UEFA granted Munich, Rome, Bilbao and Dublin extra time to provide additional information of their plans for Euro 2020, after confirming what the remaining eight host cities had outlined as their fan attendance plans for the tournament.
Following UEFA’s decision on April 9, Rome confirmed it would be able to host the opening ceremony and first match of Euro 2020 after Italian authorities agreed to a plan that would allow at least 18,000 fans to attend games at the Stadio Olimpico.
This left Munich, Bilbao and Dublin to confirm their plans, with the latter two cities having been at most risk. The four matches initially scheduled to take place in Bilbao were moved to the Estadio La Cartuja in Seville.
The three Group E matches initially scheduled for Dublin’s Aviva Stadium were reallocated to the Gazprom Arena in Saint Petersburg, which was already hosting three Group B matches and a quarter-final. The round-of-16 match initially scheduled in Dublin was moved to Wembley.
Looking back on the preparations, Čeferin added: “It has been a special Euros, for sure. I will remember it as the beginning of normality and the return of fans.
“I have never seen a dramatic Euros like this one, with great matches and surprising results. Our health protocols are extremely tough, and everyone is tested, even those who have been vaccinated. I was tested 76 times.
“The teams are highly professional and they all respect the bubble system. Also, in the stadiums, we are very strict and when I see politicians saying people were infected at the matches, without any proof, it disappoints me a bit.
“Some say 2,000 Scottish fans were infected, but the Scottish fans who went to the match (against England at Wembley) were tested. There were also 20,000 who came to London without tickets. You are not tested in the (fan) park, but to accuse all football of spreading the virus is irresponsible in my opinion.”
Image: Wembley Stadium