Euro 2020 is now Euro 2021. Or Euro 2020+1. Or Euro 20TBD. Or Euro 2020-19. One of them. (The marketers haven’t ruled on any of this yet.)
The news wasn’t immediately official either. But soccer being soccer, the main takeaways of UEFA’s much-anticipated teleconference call with all 55 of its member associations, the key decisions to reschedule immediately leaked. The global coronavirus pandemic halted the 2019-20 soccer season in its tracks, forcing most European leagues to suspend play entirely and causing all kinds of knock-on effects to the calendar.
So it was decided that the Euro would be pushed back a year but keep the same general dates of June 11-July 11. The UEFA Champions League final will be played June 27 instead of May 30 but remain in Istanbul. The Europa League final will move from May 27 to June 24. And the South American confederation announced that it, too, would delay its continental tournament by a year, moving the Copa America to 2021.
There will be further reverberations to these decisions. There’s a Women’s Euro scheduled in England for the summer of 2021. And a newly revamped, 32-team FIFA Club World Cup, to run in China for much of the Euro’s timeframe, with many of the same players, presumably. And it isn’t so simple as moving those back as well, since there’s a World Cup in 2022, albeit from mid-November to mid-December.
All of this remains very tentative. There’s no telling how long the pandemic will last. This sweeping rescheduling seems to prioritize finishing the domestic and European club seasons, even if moving a tournament of the scale of the Euro – played in 12 host countries for the first time, rather than just one or two – is a vast, complicated and expensive undertaking. And if soccer can indeed resume in a month or so, around mid-April, it’s possible to finish up the club season by the end of June or thereabouts – around the time a lot of player contracts expire.
It’s the right decision. Or at the very least, it’s the decision that will inflict the least amount of damage.
Canceling the Euro seems never to have been on the table, as it generates several billion dollars in revenue for the European governing body, much of which eventually flows back down to the member associations. But curtailing the club seasons prematurely might have proven far more destructive still.
After all, by the very nature of their competitiveness, clubs tend to live permanently on the precipice of financial ruin. Every euro saved for a rainy day is a euro not spent competing. Given the fine margins of the competitions, contingency savings are virtually non-existent. Wiping out a quarter of the season – and the most appealing and therefore lucrative part of it at that – would have resulted in a cascade of clubs falling into insolvency.
Barring an enormous bailout, salvaging as much of that revenue as possible gives clubs a fighting chance, even if there will still be shortfalls and hurt.
Such a seismic shock to the soccer industry would only have served to consolidate the super rich clubs’ perch atop the pile, as they would be the only ones capable of weathering this crisis comfortably – given the restrictions on outside cash injections. So moving Euro 2020 was by far the preferable outcome, even if it will negatively affect other events down the road. Including, most painfully, that Women’s Euro.
But the alternative was unimaginable.
For a while, there was talk of the Euro 2020 being played in that same November-December slot planned for the 2022 World Cup, but that would have meant disrupting the club season twice in three years. But within the power structure of European soccer, the major clubs yield far more leverage than their governing body. As such, it’s unsurprising that the interests of the clubs eventually prevailed over UEFA’s.
This will not be the only way in which the COVID-19 virus disrupts soccer. An early feature of this global health crisis is a constellation of ripple effects so complex it’s almost impossible to fully consider. It will be years before soccer is fully back to normal, before everybody is back on the old schedule, the players resume a regular rhythm of summer rest, and fans feel safe and free to return to the stadiums.
But for now, one of the major problems seems to have been solved, if imperfectly. Provided the pandemic doesn’t linger for longer than another month, that is, in which case the scheduling headaches will compound further.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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