At at a time of worry, confusion, and uncertainty, Uefa’s decision to postpone Euro 2020 until the summer of 2021 is a welcome ray of clarity that gives football fans hope that it won’t always be this way, writes Chris Hatherall
At at a time of worry, confusion, and uncertainty, Uefa’s decision to postpone Euro 2020 until the summer of 2021 is a welcome ray of clarity that givesfootball fans hope that it won’t always be this way.
It shouldn’t be the thing that matters most, of course, not at a time when people are ill and dying, and when many are left isolated in their homes because of the coronavirus pandemic.
But sport is a big part of so many people’s lives and still has the power to cheer us in even the most difficult of times.
So this decision is a welcome reminder that there could, after all, be a future when things return to something like normality and that there are people out there willing to look ahead and find a pathway to get there.
The decision doesn’t, of course, give the Boys in Green any guarantee of taking part in the Euros in 15 months, they still have to navigate a play-off against Slovakia which is being rescheduled for June and may yet be moved again.
However, it provides football as a whole — the entire ‘football ecosystem’ as Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin described it — with a clearer picture of what the future will look like.
It means, for instance, that there will almost certainly be international football in Dublin next year.
The FAI has already hinted it is happy for the Aviva Stadium to be used for four tournament matches in 2021 in what will become a celebration of 100 years of Irish football.
FAI president Gerry McAnaney said: “Irish football will return and we have much to look forward to now in the coming months and in welcomingEurope to Dublin in our centenary year of 2021.”
The only caveat comes for the women’s game, with Euro 2021 — due to be staged in England from July 2021 — likely to be moved, but with no clarity of when. A decision is likely to be made this summer.
That’s a blow for Ireland’s Girls in Green, who are on course for their first finals followingrecent victories over Greece andMontenegro, but who are still waiting for a date to play Germany next and now are left with greater confusion.
The news for football, however, is more positive and there is a feeling of relief among many fans that Uefa has made a decision which gives everyone some breathing space and a level ofcertainty that has been missing since football pulled down the shutters earlier this month.
It eases fears that the Premier League, EFL, and League of Ireland would have to declare the current season null and void because of a lack of space in the fixture calendar, opening up dates to June 28 and possibly beyond.
That is good news for Liverpool, who are only two victories away from winning their first title in 30 years, good news for clubs in the Championship aiming for promotion, and good news for the soul of football as it ponders how best to deal with a hugely complicated situation.
The prospect of an entire season being thrown away, leaving so many dreams shattered and so many fans disappointed, was an almost unbearable one. It hasn’t gone away entirely, but this decision by Uefa, the 55 national associations, all the European leagues, the European Club Association and FIFPro, will reassure supporters that the determination to finish the season is genuine.
There could be further clarity to come this week, too, because the EFL is due to meet today and the Premier League tomorrow to discuss the implications of Uefa’s decision and plan out their own response.
One of the most encouraging aspects of the video conference of European football’s decision-makers which agreed the new proposals was a sense that agreements were made jointly, based on social conscience and common sense rather than on financial gain and self interest.
Remember, this meeting came at a time when Manchester City are taking Uefa to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in a bid to fight charges that they broke Financial Fair Play rule (that hearing has been delayed until May) and in an era when clubs are increasingly willing to use litigation to try and get their own way.
One of the most interesting sections of Ceferin’s post-conference speech, therefore, came when he discussed the unity shown in the virtual room and the drives that brought them to that point.
“It is at times like these that the football community needs to show responsibility, unity, solidarity and altruism,” he said. “Purpose over profit.”
It’s not often you hear that in football, and it has left fans feeling just a little lighter of mood — even at a time when the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has yet to reach its peak and there remains so much uncertainty ahead.
There was even solidarity from Uefa’s traditional rival Fifa, which has vowed to support the postponement of Euro 2020 even though it will mean its World Club Cup in China next year will have to be moved to accommodate it.
Does it mean that football’s problems are solved, that everything will be okay and that the club season will be completed? Nobody can possibly make those kind of guarantees given the unpredictable pandemic that shows no sign of slowing.
But at least there is a glimmer of light in the distance.
They say that it’s the hope which hurts you most but in these difficult times, any positive news comes as a welcome relief.