Uefa’s insistence that the show must go on is really quite absurd

The show can go on. The show will go on. The show: It. Must. Go. On. In 134 days, Euro 2020 will begin 11 months to the day after it was meant to finish.

Italy (cases rising again) will host Turkey (a huge rise in case numbers after they included all non-hospitalised cases) in Rome on 11 June. The following day, games will take place in Copenhagen and St Petersburg.

If that all sounds a little like a vague mirage, an admirable attempt to hold on to a dream from which we are frequently rudely awakened, Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin disagrees. “I am 99.9 per cent sure that we will have the European Championship in all 12 cities, as planned,” he said on 13 January, an insistence reiterated again this week without the statistical prediction.

Fair play, Aleksander. I can’t even estimate when I’ll next be allowed to hug my mum without my fingers being medically fused together into a cross, so being that certain about a hundred logistical headaches takes some belief. Or maybe just a deliberate suspension of disbelief.

The plan to host a European Championship across 12 countries was always a forced idea. It was ostensibly done to remove the financial burden of single-country hosting at a time of relative austerity, but owed much to Uefa’s determination to expand the tournament to 24 teams and thus 51 matches from 31. The only single-country bid came from Turkey, and was viewed as disappointing because they had also lodged a bid for the Olympics in the same summer.

Understandably, Uefa quickly pivoted to a more positive spin. Euro 2020 was sold as a pan-continental festival of football that allowed a wider range of match-going supporters than ever before. Nobody had taken into account – or decided not to – those fans who usually followed their team to take in every match. If a Belgian living in Bruges wants to do that, he must travel approximately 12,200km between home, St Petersburg, Copenhagen, Bilbao, Munich and London. Portuguese fans don’t get a much easier ride: Budapest, Munich, Dublin, Rome and London.

But in the context of a global pandemic that thrives upon the movement of people between areas of lower and higher transmission, it seems absurd to stick to that plan. Ceferin’s assertion that the picture may “look very different by June” carries some weight, but different enough to promote a spate of ultimately unnecessary trips between countries battling to get control of case numbers and deaths? It’s a tough sell.

It’s just as extraordinary that Uefa’s principal focus appears to be not on the format of the tournament but the number of fans who will be present. Options for 30 per cent (got to keep the corporate sponsors happy, so this is the most likely), 50 per cent and 70 per cent have been mooted, but the latter two are highly optimistic to the point of naivety if it honours fans who have bought tickets for matches outside their home country. Sometimes it does feel as if governing bodies struggle to put their head out of the window and appreciate the direction of the wind.

Euro 2020 is scheduled to get underway on 11 June (Photo: PA)

We are consistently reminded that “without fans, football is nothing” (often by those who have done their best to ostracise large swathes of working-class support) but Euro 2020 without fans is better than no Euro 2020 at all. No football match is important enough to have 10,000 or more people cross borders to, arrive at, leave from, and gather in the same place in the current climate. Even if a mass vaccination programme has been implemented fully, which is hugely unlikely, that point still stands.

While Uefa still focuses on whether grounds will be full, part-full, some-full or non-full like some administrative Goldilocks, an obvious solution jumps out. After the success of the Champions League and Europa League mini-tournaments in Lisbon and Germany, Uefa could choose one host city and ask teams to enter into Covid-secure bubbles and play the entire tournament behind closed doors. Berlin has seven football stadiums with a capacity of 10,000 or more, Moscow six and London 10.

If the volume of games and scarceness of sanctioned stadiums makes that an administrative headache, either widen it to multiple cities in the same country or reduce the number of games by making the entire tournament knockout: Scrap the last-16 and only group winners progress (51 matches become 43).

The reality is that a disease is not an enemy that can be reasoned with and can only be aggravated by the mass movement, and gathering, of people.

And what is Uefa’s motivation? Is it to create that “fan festival” tournament as best they can, or is this more about the protection of revenue? The only possible reason to allow fans to travel across Europe for football this summer is because the lost proceeds from tickets will leave an awkward hole in future budgets. The only reason to fulfil corporate ticket requests is to keep them sweet.

Euro 2020 may be possible, and may well pass by without significant hiccup or Covid hotspot. But at a time when promoting good sense in tackling the virus is more important than ever as people suffer complacency fatigue, hosting across 12 countries is entirely superfluous and downright dim. Rather than considering whether they could pull it off, perhaps Uefa should focus on whether they should.

Daniel Storey’s i football column is published in print and online on Friday mornings. You can follow him on Twitter @danielstorey85

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