Lausanne (AFP) – The European championship, due to be played in June and July this year, has been postponed until 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic, European football’s governing body UEFA said on Tuesday.
UEFA said the new proposed dates for the tournament were June 11 to July 11 next year, as Euro 2020 becomes Euro 2021.
It said the postponement would “will help all domestic competitions, currently on hold due to the COVID-19 emergency, to be completed”.
The announcement comes after UEFA held crisis talks with its national associations as well as clubs and players bodies via videoconference, as the continent fights to deal with the health crisis.
“The health of all those involved in the game is the priority, as well as to avoid placing any unnecessary pressure on national public services involved in staging matches,” UEFA said in a statement.
Most of Europe’s domestic leagues have ground to a halt over the last week as football confronts its biggest issue in modern times.
Europe has become the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic, with France on Tuesday joining Italy and Spain in applying strict lockdown measures and European leaders also planning to ban all non-essential travel into the continent.
More than 2,100 people have died in Italy, which was supposed to host the opening game of Euro 2020 in Rome.
The UEFA Champions League and Europa League competitions for clubs have been suspended, with both still in the last-16 stage, but postponing the European Championship means they, along with national leagues, will have the chance to be completed, assuming travel restrictions are lifted in time.
– ‘Full support’ for changes –
UEFA has set up a working group involving leagues and clubs which will try to come up with a new match calendar to allow for the season to be completed.
Twenty of the 24 nations set to take part in the Euro have already qualified, but play-offs to determine the final four participants, due to be played this month, have been postponed.
UEFA said those matches, and other scheduled friendlies, would now be played in June “subject to a review of the situation.”
South America’s equivalent of the Euro, the Copa America, also scheduled for this June and July, has also been postponed by a year, ensuring European-based players will be free to finish the season with their clubs.
The move was welcomed by national associations in countries currently battling the pandemic.
“People’s health and well-being has to be the primary concern for us all, so we fully support UEFA’s decision to postpone EURO 2020,” said the English FA’s CEO, Mark Bullingham.
Meanwhile, French Football Federation (FFF) president Noel Le Graet gave the postponement his “full support”, calling it a “wise and pragmatic decision”.
– Knock-on effects –
Euro 2020 was due to be held in 12 countries. There is no suggestion the format or number of venues will change.
The semi-finals and final are supposed to be played in London and there will be considerable knock-on effects from the postponement — the women’s European Championship is scheduled to run from July 7 to August 1 next year in England, with the final at Wembley.
UEFA also planned to stage an Under-21 Euro in Hungary and Slovenia in June next year.
Moving the Euro by a year also puts UEFA on a collision course with football’s world governing body FIFA, whose president Gianni Infantino has planned to stage the inaugural edition of his highly lucrative Club World Cup in June and July next year in China.
However, Infantino indicated in an open letter on Monday that FIFA will “look to find in due course solutions in a spirit of cooperation, taking into account the interests of football at all levels”.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin thanked Infantino for his intervention and for saying FIFA will do “whatever is required to make this new calendar work”.
“In the face of this crisis, football has shown its best side with openness, solidarity and tolerance,” Ceferin said.
As for its club competitions, UEFA could still come to a decision to try to complete the Champions League and Europa League by curtailing the competitions, meaning ties up to the semi-finals could be decided in one-off matches.
Reports on Tuesday indicated both tournaments could conclude with a ‘Final Four’ meeting in the scheduled host cities — Istanbul for the Champions League and Gdansk in Poland for the Europa League.
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