The pandemic that has dominated our lives for more than a year is, once again, coming to an end – there’s no telling if it’s the calm before another wave of the light at the end of the tunnel. This year, in turn, things are returning to normal, as more and more people around the globe are getting vaccinated against the disease. We spent the better part of last year playing online pokies on our phones while being stuck inside for a good chunk of the time. Not that it was a problem, considering the variety of online games at our fingertips, and how accessible they are even in the middle of a public health crisis – you don’t have to leave home or even put on shoes to become a big winner. Now, in turn, things are changing for the better – even though the effects of the pandemic will linger for a long time.
Football was especially affected by the ongoing pandemic. As stadiums closed, and sporting events were suspended across the world, football teams that rely heavily on ticket sales have found themselves in a, let’s just say “sensitive” situation. While football did restart eventually, they have only started to return to the grandstands, and even then in limited numbers. The pandemic has led to the postponing of the 2020 European Championship to this year – and this is just one of the many ways it has affected the tournament.
The 2020 European Championship was supposed to be a festive one, celebrating 60 years from the establishment of the event. To celebrate, UEFA decided to choose a dozen host cities for the event’s matches to further reflect the unifying effect of sports, especially football.
At the beginning of the year, UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin said he still hoped to hold matches in all 12 cities originally planned, and with full grandstands. Well, let’s call this a partially correct prophecy.
Two of the original host cities, Dublin (Ireland) and Bilbao (Spain) were taken off the list for this year because the local authorities couldn’t guarantee that enough fans will be able to attend the matches of the tournament.
As a result, Bilbao was replaced by Seville as the host city for Spain’s EURO 2021 matches, while the matches set to be played in Dublin were moved to Sankt Petersburg.
Having a full stadium of fans cheering for their respective teams remains a dream – at least for now. The only country that committed to a full stadium of fans is Hungary – the Puskás Aréna in Budapest will host four EURO 2021 matches in front of grandstands filled to the brim. The other host cities have committed to allowing fans on their stadiums in varying percentages, anywhere from 25% to 50%. Every stadium will enforce strict measures to keep the fans and players safe, including social distancing (where applicable), spot checks, and such.
Even if it begins with many strict measures in place, it’s good to know European football is finally back.