Liam Morgan

French newspaper L’Equipe today reported UEFA will postpone this year’s European Championship until 2021 because of the coronavirus outbreak.

If the report in the well-respected publication is to be believed, this season’s Champions League - Europe’s top-tier club competition - and the Europa League will be suspended amid growing international concern over the spread of the virus.

The postponement of Euro 2020, the first to be held in different cities across Europe, would allow for the completion of the two club tournaments and avoid having to cancel them altogether.

Champions League and Europa League games could feasibly be pushed into the summer months in the space freed up by the possible postponement of Euro 2020, an eventuality which, publicly at least, UEFA has consistently refused to entertain.

UEFA and its President Aleksander Čeferin have largely remained defiant on the impact of COVID-19 since questions were first raised over whether it could force an unprecedented change to its flagship tournament.

UEFA will meet next week to decide the fate of Euro 2020 ©Getty Images
UEFA will meet next week to decide the fate of Euro 2020 ©Getty Images

Čeferin has, in some ways, emerged as the voice of reason amid global hysteria regarding the outbreak, urging caution among Member Federations and last week warning against focusing on what he called "dark scenarios".

While I have agreed with much of what the Slovenian lawyer has said in recent weeks, the rapidly escalating and fast-changing situation should - finally, some might say - spark UEFA into action.

A major announcement from European football’s governing body today might not have truly lived up to its billing and prompted inevitable criticism that the organisation is merely delaying the inevitable, particularly as countries ramp up travel restrictions and bans on events with a certain number of people attending.

UEFA are set to hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday (March 17), during which suspending its major club competitions and postponing Euro 2020 - due to open on June 12 with the first match in Rome, the capital city of Italy, one of the world's worst affected countries - to next year will be on the table.

The trouble is, many who have call for a postponement, or even a cancellation, have not entirely thought it through.

It is easy to sit there - be it as a pundit in a studio or anyone with a keyboard - and make such a call. But is far harder, and more complicated, to do so when you consider all the ramifications and consequences of the decision itself.

Football, like many sports, packs a merciless number of events into a congested calendar. Postponing Euro 2020 by 12 months would bring it into potential conflict with competitions like UEFA’s own Women’s European Championship and Nations League, as well as the first edition of FIFA’s revamped Club World Cup and 2022 World Cup qualifiers.

UEFA and FIFA rarely see eye-to-eye on anything these days and the worldwide body would hardly allow the European organisation to hinder its flashy, new product in any way without serious negotiation. There is equally no guarantee of an amicable resolution.

It has been suggested that the Women's Euro 2021 could be moved to accommodate the men's tournament, which would hardly send a strong message of gender equality.

The pan-continental nature of the men's event is both a positive for UEFA. On the one hand, matches can more easily be rescheduled as they are all not taking place in the same city or country, while on the other, the volume of inter-country travel required only exacerbates concerns over the spread of the virus.

More generally, you do not just move a major event on the scale of a European Championship. As with the Olympic Games, there are dozens of moving parts to contend with.

At the same time, given the current climate, it is difficult to see any other outcome than a postponement, unless the virus is contained and dealt with far quicker than is being predicted at the moment. 

Football has, of course, already been forced to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, with numerous leagues and competitions across Europe and beyond postponed - including UEFA’s Champions League and Europa League - as part of efforts to curb its spread and following measures introduced in the host countries.

Matches in the Champions League have also been held behind closed doors, including last night’s game between Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund, although thousands gathered outside the Parc des Princes to celebrate the result.

Paris Saint-Germain's Champions League second leg with Borussia Dortmund was held behind closed doors ©Getty Images
Paris Saint-Germain's Champions League second leg with Borussia Dortmund was held behind closed doors ©Getty Images

As I wrote this piece, two more - Manchester City’s home clash with Real Madrid and Juventus versus Lyon - due to be held next week were postponed, an example of just how quickly the situation is changing and developing.

At the time of writing, at least three players - two in Italy and one in Germany - have contracted COVID-19, while three others at Premier League club Leicester City are being kept away from the squad after reporting symptoms.

Football in some ways is a microcosm of sport’s inconsistent approach to dealing with the virus.

As leagues and countries close their borders and stadiums, UEFA has repeatedly insisted Euro 2020 will go ahead as planned, while it seems bizarre to see fans at matches in countries with more cases than those who have shut grounds and arenas to spectators.

Whether some countries have been too quick to enforce such measures remains to be seen and some will argue they are just being proactive.

UEFA has largely been reactive thus far. A different response is needed when it holds the crunch meeting in five days’ time.