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Euro 2020: Will there be fans in stadiums?

March 17, 2021

A year after Euro 2020 was postponed, the plan for the rearranged tournament remains unclear. UEFA appear to be demanding fans in stadiums in multiple cities, but is that possible? The hosts themselves are not so sure.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin (right) alongside the mayor of London Sadiq Kahn
Euro 2020 will now be played in 2021Image: picture-alliance/PA Wire/J. Walton

When Stuttgart visit the Allianz Arena on Saturday in the Bundesliga, the Munich terraces will be empty, just like they have been across Germany, and most of the world, for much of the past year.

But UEFA's president is banking on things being different in three months' time. 

"We have several scenarios, but the one guarantee we can make is that the option of playing any Euro 2020 match in an empty stadium is off the table," said Aleksander Ceferin, to Croatian newspaper Sportske Novosti on Sunday. "Every host must guarantee there will be fans at their games."

However, UEFA muddied the waters somewhat in response to a query from DW on Wednesday.

"No city would automatically drop out if they were to come back with a behind closed doors scenario. But we would nevertheless need to consider whether it would make sense to play without fans, or whether such matches should be reallocated to other venues," a statement read.

The mayor of Munich, which is slated to host four matches between June 15 and July 2, including Germany's three group games, believes Ceferin's certainty is misplaced. 

"It is simply not possible at this point in time to make a statement about whether or not the coronavirus pandemic will allow spectators in June, or not," Dieter Reiter told German daily Bild on Wednesday.

Germany team manager Oliver Bierhoff said the national team had "no plan B" and expected their group games to be in Bavaria. "I can only interpret it as him [Ceferin] wanting to send a clear signal once again to countries and governments. We have focused all our planning on Munich," Bierhoff said on Thursday.

Clock is ticking

UEFA have given the 12 host cities until April 7 to submit a plan for how, and how many, fans they will get into stadiums across the continent, ahead of the UEFA Congress on April 20, when a final decision must be made.

Despite Ceferin's insistence, the last year has thrown up numerous reminders that little can be securely planned during a pandemic. Just last week in India, for example, a rise in infection rates meant that a series of cricket matches between England and India went from having more than 60,000 in attendance on Friday to none on Tuesday.

As such, the various football associations are generally remaining positive, yet non-committal in their public statements. 

Bayern Munich vs. RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga
Empty seats have become the norm at Bayern Munich matchesImage: Lukas Barth-Tuttas/Getty Images

"The goal remains to be able to hold onto the mode of the event," Rainer Koch, a vice president of the German federation (DFB) and member of UEFA's Executive Committee told press agency DPA. He added that it was too early for final decisions but that "the time factor is one that makes me optimistic, the effect of the vaccines will be much stronger in a couple of weeks."

More games in England?

The effect of those vaccines is already advanced in England, where almost half the population have received their first dose, including nearly all of those at most risk of death. The UK government has said it aims for all adults to have received a first dose by the end of July. Given that the vaccination rollout has so far been ahead of schedule, and the semifinals and final are set for London on July 6,7 and 11, fans in Wembley Stadium, if not capacity crowds, seems a distinct possibility.

"We are hosting the Euros. We are hosting the semis and the final," Prime Minister Boris Johnson told UK tabloid The Sun earlier this month. England is also due to host three group games and a round-of-16 match.

"If they want any other matches hosted, we're certainly on for that, but at the moment that's where we are with UEFA," the prime minister said.

Despite Johnson's offer, and reported interest from Israel and Germany along similar lines, Ceferin seems determined to pursue the multi-city format chosen to mark the 60th anniversary of the competition. Travel restrictions remain in place almost everywhere and host cities have significant differences in infection rates, but the Slovenian insists the show must go on largely as planned.

Wembley Stadium, London
Will scenes like this be possible at Wembley during Euro 2020?Image: Reuters/Action Images/A. Boyers

"The ideal scenario is to play the tournament in the original 12 venues, but if that is not possible then it will go ahead in either 10 or 11 countries if one or more of the venues cannot meet the required conditions," he said.

Venue changes still possible

Scotland and Ireland are thought to be among the countries that may be reluctant to allow fans back on the terraces for the tournament. A representative of the Scottish FA told DW that discussions were ongoing but was not as forthright as Johnson or Koch.

"We remain in constant dialogue with UEFA and the Scottish Government regarding the co-hosting of the tournament in Scotland, given the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. We will continue these discussions to ensure as many fans as possible can enjoy the four matches at Hampden Park."

Such caution is understandable and commonplace. A lot has changed in the year since the tournament was postponed, a lot could change in the three weeks until UEFA needs host-city proposals, and a lot could change in the three months until the tournament opener in Rome. Well, provisionally in Rome.