As the coronavirus outbreak causes chaos across Europe, UEFA has a major decision to make over whether it can go ahead with the upcoming European Championship as planned.
European football’s governing body will hold a crisis meeting next Tuesday to discuss the way forward for all domestic and European competitions, as well as Euro 2020, which is due to take place from 12 June to 12 July in 12 different countries across the continent.
Last week, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin played down fears that Euro 2020 may have to be postponed when he spoke after the organisation’s congress in Amsterdam.
“We are dealing with it and we are confident we can deal with it,” Ceferin said before calling on organisers to “not just think about dark scenarios, there will be time for that later.”
However, the extent to which the scenario has worsened over the last week means that now is already the time to think about it.
With cases rising throughout Europe, Italy in total lockdown, countries beginning to impose travel bans and the World Health Organisation labelling the outbreak a pandemic, the possibility of Euro 2020 being postponed is growing.
According to a source close to UEFA, everything will be on the table at next Tuesday’s meeting, from postponement of the Euro and changing the format to looking at changing the venues.
“UEFA is going to be obliged to suspend European competitions. And in order to make finishing them possible, they will have to postpone the Euro,” the president of one French club told AFP.
“It is a reasonable scenario when you see that players are starting to be affected,” he added, after Italian champions Juventus confirmed on Wednesday that their defender Daniele Rugani had tested positive for coronavirus.
One source at a European broadcaster, who requested anonymity, said that UEFA “could first make a decision about the Champions League, which is more urgent, and then decide about the Euro.”
The unprecedented decision to stage the European Championship in 12 nations across the continent could complicate things.
“For the first time we have the possibility of several countries being obliged to apply quarantine measures or restrict the movement of people,” said Jacques Lambert, head of the organising committee for Euro 2016, which was held in France.
“We cannot know clearly and definitively which host countries will be impacted most heavily.”
Matches are due to be played from as far apart as Bilbao and Dublin to Saint Petersburg and Baku.
The difficulty in foreseeing what restrictions will be placed upon travel over the next three months means UEFA could consider going ahead with the tournament, but playing games behind closed doors. That solution could satisfy broadcasters.
However, the situation is complicated because the pandemic is currently affecting host countries in different ways.
While Rome, which is due to host the opening game on 12 June, is presently in lockdown along with the rest of Italy, life is going on more or less as normal in London.
Wembley is due to host seven games, including both semi-finals and the final.
“We will continue to follow Government advice and no special measures have been proposed at this stage,” an English FA spokesman told AFP.
UEFA risks being left with not enough space to complete fixtures in its club competitions, with the added complication of certain countries having postponed domestic matches at least until the end of March, as is the case in Italy, Spain and the Netherlands.
As it stands, the Champions League final is scheduled to be played in Istanbul on 30 May, just 13 days before Euro 2020 starts.
They may be left with little choice but to push back the final stages of the Champions League, therefore meaning the European Championship has to be postponed.
In any case, it is currently unclear if all 24 qualified nations for the Euro will be known in time.
The final four qualifying berths are due to be decided in play-off semi-finals and finals scheduled for the end of this month, but in the current situation it is hard to see how all of those matches will be completed on time.
A friendly between the Netherlands and Spain, scheduled for 29 March in Amsterdam, has been postponed and more upcoming internationals are likely to follow, due to the knock-on effects of the virus, quarantines and population lockdowns.