The Euro 2020 soccer Championship, trumpeted as a continent-wide feast of football from Dublin to Baku to mark Uefa’s 60th anniversary, was on Tuesday postponed for a year as the coronavirus pandemic claimed its biggest sporting casualty yet.
The fate of the 24-nation, month-long showpiece due to start in June had hung in the balance ever since Europe’s domestic leagues began shutting down in the wake of the sweeping health crisis.
Europe’s flagship tournament, staged every four years and second only to Fifa’s World Cup in terms of prestige in soccer, will now be staged from June 11 to July 12, 2021.
Uefa eventually relayed the news after an emergency video conference with all 55 of its affiliated national federations and representatives from clubs and leagues.
“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 said in a statement. “It is at times like these, that the football community needs to show responsibility, unity, solidarity and altruism.”
It was a widely expected move, with pressure ramping up from Europe’s big domestic soccer leagues.
The Uefa Champions League and Europa League competitions for clubs have also been suspended, with both still in the last-16 stage, but getting rid of the Euros means there should be breathing space for club tournaments to take place and finish, assuming travel restrictions are lifted in time.
Europe has become the epicentre of the pandemic, with France on Tuesday having joined Italy and Spain in applying strict lockdown measures and European leaders also planning to ban all non-essential travel into the continent.
The sporting calendar has been shredded, with a host of blue-riband events cancelled and competitions suspended, and the fate of the Tokyo Olympics now hangs in the balance.
This year’s 12-nation Copa America was also postponed until 2021 on Tuesday, the South American Football Confederation (Conmebol) said.
Premier League and EFL matches have been suspended until April 3 but a debate is on in English football on the road ahead. Premier League clubs are expected to discuss Uefa’s plans in their own meeting on Thursday.
A report in The Times, London, said the top six clubs in the Sky Bet Championship — the second tier of the league — are ready to launch a legal challenge against their top-flight counterparts if they try to cancel this season and deny them three promotion places.
The clubs occupying the Championship’s promotion and play-off places — Leeds United, West Bromwich Albion, Fulham, Brentford, Nottingham Forest and Preston North End — held an emergency meeting on Monday. They are said to be “seething” about some of the statements coming from certain Premier League clubs calling for the season to be scrapped.
“It’s time to park our tanks on the Premier League’s lawn,” one leading Championship club said, according to The Times report.
Promotion to the Premier League is worth about £200 million to a club and could mean potential financial ruin to those that are relegated.
Last weekend, Baroness Brady, the vice-chairperson of relegation-threatened West Ham United, wrote in her weekly newspaper column that “the only fair and reasonable thing to do is declare the whole season null and void”.
With the Euros and Copa now postponed for a year, it could provide some flexibility for domestic competitions, all left in various states of limbo by the stoppage, to be concluded once the pandemic eases.
“Uefa tabled a range of options so that competitions can finish this season safely, and I am proud of the response of my colleagues across European football,” Ceferin said.
The European Championship was first held in 1960 with four nations reaching the finals in France and the former Soviet Union beating then Yugoslavia 2-1 to the trophy.
The 2020 edition was supposed to be the first staged across the continent, rather than by a single or joint host nations. The new format was the brainchild of former Uefa president and France football legend Michel Platini.
The host cities were Glasgow, Dublin, Bilbao, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Munich, Rome, St Petersburg, Bucharest, Budapest and Baku, with the final set for London’s Wembley Stadium.