WITH much of Europe still in the mire when it comes to Covid-19 and the task of mass vaccination likely to stretch across the year, the time may have come to assess whether the European Championship needs to take place or not in 2021.
UEFA may yet have to concede that hosting a pan-European competition is totally impractical in the current climate and even a single-nation event will look foolhardy and a waste of money as a post-pandemic slumps sets in.
From a football perspective, the World Cup is now only 22 months away and by the time the European Championship final is played on July 11, there will be 16 months before 2022 kicks off. The November start may end up being Qatar’s salvation, by then, we must hope the world is discovering a new normal.
Already fixture congestion is causing problems for teams and players and we are currently being bombarded with non-stop football and the Euros and the Olympics are on the horizon. Quite simply, do we really need the European Championship to happen? There’s undoubtedly going to be logistical problems in people travelling all over Europe when there’s been a virtual lockdown of tourism and airlines have been pushed to the brink. The hotel industry is also staring into the abyss and will, post-all crisis, have to change the way it does things. Hygiene and caution will dominate the narrative, and there’s nought so unhygienic than a football crowd, unless you’re a J-League regular.
It is not hard to imagine some governments will try to sit on the fence when they reach the stage when the barricades can be lifted. The decision to declare “business as usual” will be deferred by some politicians for as long as they can. The UK administration is an obvious candidate for having the biggest splinters. It is quite feasible England fans will head for continental Europe with a manifesto of vagueness that has characterised the entire Covid campaign. How can UEFA put the closing stages of their showpiece in the hands of a country that has now entered a third lockdown and a vertical spike in infections?
If UEFA have to “get the Euros done”, then why not minimize risk and concentrate the competition in one or two nations with good track records. Look at the pandemic league table and, with the right amount of precaution (restricted and smaller crowds, controlled access and health checks), allow the countries who have handled the crisis appropriately to host games.
Moreover, dispense with the bloated format and opt for a streamlined knockout competition. The current format will amount to 51 games in 12 venues. Why not reduce it to 23 over three? Surely this would reduce the risk substantially? The tournament has been made very unwieldy even without the pandemic to contend with, perhaps UEFA, and indeed FIFA, will take note and realise that less is best sometimes.
Football may be the most important of the unimportant things in life, but it certainly isn’t more important than life and death. So many aspects of daily life have been disrupted over the past 12 months: births, marriages and deaths, jobs, food, healthcare, politics, social interaction, relationships and of course, football. There’s no shortage of games at the moment and hopefully, it will continue in the months ahead. But do we really need a carnival that could set us back a few steps? Do we really want a thwarted life in 2021 and beyond? We shouldn’t let the urge to provide “bread and circuses” derail all the good work that has been done.