Euro in for a treat: National team tournament to feature fans

The European Championship, postponed last year because of the pandemic, will be contested this summer and also feature a limited number of fans.

Despite the ongoing pandemic and a fourth wave of infections across Europe, this summer’s Euros will feature as many fans as possible for matches.

Making the tournament tricker, is that it will be played in 12 host cities scattered across the continent. As a result, UEFA, which organizes the tournament every four years, asked each national soccer association to let them know this month whether supporters would be permitted to attend games.

This is great news for lovers of international soccer who know how colorful fans in the stands can be at major competitions featuring national teams. For the players, fans will create an atmosphere that will certainly energize them a year after most continue to play in empty stadiums at the club level.

Several nations revealed the specifics of their plans earlier this month, which calls for as little as 25% of fans access to stadiums to as much as 50%. Saint Petersburg and Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, have, for now, committed to hosting that many fans. This comes after the Russians hosted the highly-successful 2018 World Cup and have experience with the logistics that come with hosting a major soccer tournament.

In hard-hit Italy, where the capitol Rome is a host city, COVID-19 lockdowns persist and Serie A games continue to feature no fans. For the Euros, however, government officials said this week that 25% of tickets would be sold at the Stadio Olimpico so fans could see matches in person.

“The willingness obtained from the Italian government is an excellent result that is good for the country, not just football,” Italian FC President Gabriele Gravina said, adding that protocols from scientific advisors helped them reach this conclusion.

The Euros open on June 11 in Rome, where Italy take on Turkey, and conclude at London’s Wembley Stadium on July 11.

The tournament’s other host cities include Munich, Budapest, Bucharest, Bilbao, Amsterdam, Glasgow, Dublin and Copenhagen.

The Associated Press reported that Amsterdam, Bucharest, Copenhagen and Glasgow plan to allow capacities of anywhere between 25% to 33%. Those numbers could rise given the possible drop in infections and increase in vaccinations over the next few months.

Wembley, which will also host the semifinals, could also feature fans in the stands, come the summer. The English FA has been encouraged by the British government’s openness to test it out first by allowing limited amounts of spectators for the Carabao Cup final on April 25 and FA Cup final on May 15.

A crowd of 21,000 is expected to attend the FA Cup final, for example, at a venue with a capacity of 87,000. As many as 45,000 could be expected to attend the Euro semifinals and final.

“This is an important first step towards getting fans back, with the end goal of full stadia — hopefully by the end of the men’s Euros,” English FA chief executive Mark Bullingham noted earlier this month.

UEFA has said there must be spectators at each game and that closed-door matches are not an option for such a high-profile tournament. Despite allowing supporters, travel restrictions and quarantine remain in effect, meaning that fans won’t be able to hop from one venue to another like in a pre-pandemic era.

UEFA’s club competitions, such as the Champions League, have been played with no fans since the pandemic struck in March 2020. A limited number of supporters are expected to attend the UCL final, to be played at Ataturk Stadium in Istanbul, on May 29.