It was billed as a glorious festival of football across 12 European cities, from Bilbao to Baku, with a final played at Wembley Stadium in July. But on Tuesday the Euro 2020 football championships became the biggest major sporting event to be postponed due to the coronavirus crisis, reset for 12 months later.
The decision was confirmed after European football’s governing body Uefa held a teleconference with the leagues, clubs and players’ union. Uefa’s hope is that postponing the tournament will free up space in the football calendar for the backlog of domestic matches, already cancelled, to be played in the summer. However that will depend on the Covid-19 pandemic being subdued.
“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,” Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin admitted. “It is at times like these, that the football community needs to show responsibility, unity, solidarity and altruism.
“Purpose over profit has been our guiding principle in taking this decision for the good of European football as a whole,” he added. “The thought of celebrating a pan-European festival of football in empty stadia, with deserted fan zones while the continent sits at home in isolation, is a joyless one and one we could not accept to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the competition.”
Twenty of the 24 teams due to play in Euro 2020 have qualified, including England and Wales, with rounds of playoffs due for the remaining four not yet played. Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland each have a chance of joining the giants of European football, including France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands, in the tournament.
Uefa moved the tournament dates from 12 June-12 July 2020 to 11 June-11 July 2021, although a number of issues remain outstanding, including whether the tournament competition will still be played in 12 venues across the continent, and what will happen to next year’s Club World Cup and women’s Euro 2021 competitions. The latter is due to be held from 11 July to 1 August 2021.
There also remains uncertainty about where this year’s Champions League final will be staged, with the tournament still yet to complete its round of 16, and whether the European leagues will be able to finish their domestic seasons. However Gianni Infantino, the president of the sport’s governing body Fifa, said he hoped appropriate solutions would be found by the end of April.
Infantino also revealed that Fifa’s council would discuss a $10m donation to the World Health Organisation Covid-19 solidarity response fund, as well as setting up a separate global football assistance fund to help members of the football community affected by this crisis. The most significant sporting event of the year, the Olympics in Tokyo, is still on track, with the International Olympic Committee again insisting it was still “fully committed” to staging the event this summer, and that constant speculation was counterproductive.
“This is an unprecedented situation for the whole world, and our thoughts are with all those affected by this crisis,” the IOC said in a statement following a meeting of its executive board. “We are in solidarity with the whole of society to do everything to contain the virus. The situation around the Covid-19 virus is also impacting the preparations for Tokyo 2020, and is changing day by day.
“The IOC remains fully committed to Tokyo 2020, and with more than four months to go before the Games there is no need for any drastic decisions at this stage; and any speculation at this moment would be counter-productive.”
The opening events of the elite Diamond League athletics season – in Qatar and China – were moved to the autumn, while all organised grassroots athletics in the UK has been suspended until the end of April. A UK Athletics statement said that all “face-to-face organised athletics activity”, including races, leagues, running groups and training meetings were now banned.
“Monday’s announcements from the prime minister made it explicitly clear that non-essential travel and non-essential social gatherings should be avoided whenever possible and the sport of athletics will adhere to these guidelines,” it added. “However world class programme athletes are still being supported to train in official training environments and venues undertaking necessary precautions.”
The French Open tennis was postponed from May until September, and the British Horseracing Authority suspended all racing in Britain until the end of April to protect essential emergency services and the health and welfare of staff working in the racing industry.
“This is a national emergency the likes of which most of us have never seen before,” said Nick Rust, the BHA’s chief executive. “There will be difficult months ahead for many of us. But we need to do what we can to support businesses inside and outside racing and the many people whose livelihoods depend upon this £4bn industry.”
One racing source told the Guardian he expected racing might lose as much £25m in the next six weeks, and predicted that bookmakers over the same period could lose ten times that. However one major event did get under way on Tuesday, despite the global pandemic: the 2020 Candidate’s chess tournament, which will whittle down eight contenders to find a challenger to the world champion Magnus Carlsen.
Teimour Radjabov, the Azerbaijani grandmaster, has withdrawn from the event in Yekaterinburg in Russia, which has a prize fund of €500,000, because of Covid-19. The 14th world champion Vladimir Kramnik also pulled out of commentating on the tournament, saying: “I strongly believe it should have been postponed considering the nowadays disastrous humanitarian situation in the world.”