The European Championship, second only to the World Cup in importance and value in international soccer, will be postponed until 2021, tournament organizers decided on Tuesday.
Hours later, the organizers of the Copa América, South America’s continental championship, which was scheduled to run concurrently with the Euros, announced that they would do the same, moving their event — set for Argentina and Colombia this summer — back a year.
The move by the governing body for soccer in Europe, UEFA, will clear the month of summer dates blocked out for the tournament, known as Euro 2020, and could allow national leagues that have been suspended because of the coronavirus outbreak to complete their seasons.
“We are at the helm of a sport that vast numbers of people live and breathe that has been laid low by this invisible and fast-moving opponent,” UEFA’s president, Aleksandr Ceferin, said. “It is at times like these, that the football community needs to show responsibility, unity, solidarity and altruism.”
Officials from Conmebol, the South American confederation that organizes the Copa América, said they had made the decision to delay their championship to try to avoid the spread of the coronavirus, which is already present in several of its member countries.
“It has not been easy to make this decision,” Conmebol said in a statement, “but we must safeguard at all times the health of our athletes and of all the agents who are part of the great family of South American football.”
Though the decisions have been announced, they still must be ratified by FIFA, which will hold a conference call including President Gianni Infantino and the heads of soccer’s confederations on Wednesday.
“Cooperation, mutual respect and understanding must be the guiding principles for all decision makers to have in mind at this crucial moment in time,” Infantino said in a statement.
He said he planned to speak with the Chinese government about postponing the newly expanded Club World Cup, which was set to be the first major men’s soccer tournament to be played there, next summer. The event, Infantino said, could now be played at an alternate date in 2021, 2022 or 2023.
Hours after the Euros announcement, UEFA said it had committed to finishing domestic club leagues by June 30, in places where it would be possible. It also said that European club competitions would share match dates with domestic leagues, meaning Champions League games, which normally take place midweek, could be played on the weekends.
The decision to delay the Euros and all other matches in Europe came after a series of video conferences involving leaders from UEFA and representatives of clubs, leagues and the global players’ union. With so much disruption, including club seasons that have been suspended midyear, officials appear to have concluded that priority should be given to those domestic competitions and not to a quadrennial tournament that had not yet begun — even one as important as the Euros.
Moving the European Championship back a year will have ripple effects on the international soccer calendar. Beyond the Club World Cup, the women’s Euros, which had been scheduled for 2021, will now be moved back to 2022, according to a person familiar with the decision, though the organization made no official comment on its future competitions. UEFA also said all events and matches (including friendlies) for its clubs and national teams — for both men and women — were postponed until further notice.
“It was important that, as the governing body of European football, UEFA led the process and made the biggest sacrifice,” Ceferin said. “Moving Euro 2020 comes at a huge cost for UEFA but we will do our best to ensure that the vital funding for grassroots, women’s football and the development of the game in our 55 countries is not affected.”
Norway’s national federation was the first to confirm a final decision had been made about the Euros, posting on its official Twitter feed that the championships would be played between June 11 and July 11 next year.
Speculation about the fate of Euro 2020, which crowns the European men’s national team champion, had been building for weeks as the spread of the virus started cutting a swath through the sporting calendar. This year’s championship was to be the first in the event’s history to be played in 12 cities across Europe, rather than in one or two countries.
While the postponement allows some breathing room for domestic leagues to be completed, there is no timetable for when those leagues can restart. Several countries in Europe are in various states of lockdown, with emergency measures that have closed businesses and, in the cases of Italy, Spain and France, restricted citizens to their homes.
Since suspending its two major club competitions last week — the Champions League and the Europa League — UEFA’s leadership has been weighing complex scenarios that would best allow those competitions to be completed. It quickly became apparent that insisting that Euro 2020 take place in June would make it all but impossible for domestic competitions to finish.
Failing to complete those domestic seasons — which may go unfinished even with the European Championship postponement — would unleash a cascading list of problems for organizers around the Continent, not least defining league winners, deciding which teams will be promoted and relegated for next season, and sorting out which teams qualify for the next edition of the Champions League and Europa League. All of those decisions have significant financial consequences for the clubs involved.
Ceferin, UEFA’s president, had led a conference call on Tuesday from his home in Slovenia, which included leaders of trade bodies for the top leagues and the clubs, as well as representatives from the global players’ union, FIFPro. That was followed by a second call with officials from Europe’s 55 national federations — many of which are heavily reliant on the money UEFA generates from the quadrennial European Championship and events like the Champions League, which is played every season.
The decision to postpone the Euros was finally decided through an exchange of emails between members of UEFA’s executive committee.
During the meeting it was decided to set up two separate working groups. One will deal with the complex calendar modifications required, and a second will discuss how to handle the inevitable financial consequences of the postponement.
Canceling the Euros — an event that UEFA had expected to generate more than $2.5 billion and one for which organizers had already received about 30 million ticket requests — is a complicated matter. The tournament was to be played in multiple venues, from Azerbaijan to Ireland,, with the semifinals and final at Wembley Stadium in London. That meant agreeing to contracts with several different regional and national governments, and dedicating about 400 UEFA staff members to the event. UEFA estimates the cost of cancellation as up to 400 million euros.
Before Tuesday’s decision, UEFA officials had combed through various contracts and spoke with other main stakeholders, including broadcast partners, to make sure that postponement would not expose the organization in an unexpected way. Still, the decision is likely to cost the governing body millions in lost revenue.
Domestic soccer took priority in the end because of the possibility of insolvency and the potential impact on the wider soccer economy — especially for players and officials not contracted to the biggest and richest teams. Estimates for Germany alone indicate that more than 60,000 people are employed directly through the sport.
The decision also allows clubs to take stock of the repercussions of the virus, which has already led to some of the highest-profile players and teams being placed in isolation, including the 13-time European club champion Real Madrid, the Italian giant Juventus and a quarter of the clubs in the English Premier League. Some federation officials have also announced that they have contracted the virus.
For several weeks there had been a confused response from the soccer world, with some games being played as though nothing had changed, while others were moved behind closed doors, until finally there was no option to play on. The Premier League in England, the sport’s richest domestic league, was among the last to act.
That led to frustration and fury among some of the players. In a column for The Sunday Times, a London-based newspaper, the former Manchester United star Wayne Rooney criticized the soccer authorities for treating players like “guinea pigs” and for not sharing information about why they were being asked to play on while other European leagues had been suspended. Damiano Tommasi, a former Roma player and the head of the players’ union in Italy, said something similar when games were initially pushed behind closed doors and not canceled.
A major lingering issue in the disruption to the soccer calendar is player contracts, which typically run through the end of June. That means players in the last year of their deals would be out of contract should the season run into July or beyond. Representatives of FIFPro have called for there to be temporary extensions given the extraordinary circumstances. Smaller clubs have also called for financial assistance to allow them to be able to make payroll. There also exists the possibility that seasons might have to be abandoned altogether.