LONDON — Plans to play some matches in the European soccer championship this summer in Dublin and in Bilbao, Spain, have been abandoned after the local authorities were unable to guarantee that a sufficient number of fans could attend the games in each city because of coronavirus restrictions.
Munich’s role in the tournament, called Euro 2020, was also in doubt, but its place was confirmed during an emergency meeting of members of the executive committee for UEFA, soccer’s governing body in Europe. The tournament, which was postponed last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, is soccer’s No. 2 most-watched competition, after the World Cup. This summer it is being played on a continentwide basis, in 11 cities, for the first time in its history.
Important updates on #EURO2020 venue changes, capacities and fan information 👇https://t.co/uaBbz1F3ue
Dublin and Bilbao were set to stage three group games and one round of 16 match. Dublin’s group-stage schedule will move to St. Petersburg, Russia, which had already been selected to host four games. London’s Wembley Stadium, where the tournament’s semifinals and final will be played, will pick up Dublin’s knockout-round game. Three previously scheduled group games are also being played at Wembley.
Seville will take on the games slated to be played in Bilbao, despite opposition from the authorities in Bilbao, who said they would seek compensation from UEFA after working on hosting the tournament for six years.
“We won’t allow Bilbao or the Basque institutions to be taken for a ride,” the authorities in Bilbao said before UEFA made its official announcement confirming the moves.
Munich survived the cull after telling UEFA that despite social distancing measures in place, the city could accommodate a minimum of 14,500 spectators at its matches.
“We have been working diligently with the host associations and local authorities to ensure a safe and festive environment at the games and I am really pleased that we are able to welcome spectators at all matches for a celebration of national team football across the continent,” UEFA’s President Aleksander Ceferin said in statement.
A final decision on the host cities was originally expected to be taken last Monday, but organizers gave cities more time to determine if they could meet the cutoff for allowing fans, an essential requirement for UEFA despite the pandemic. Coronavirus restrictions vary widely across Europe, and the tournament was set to stretch from Glasgow and London to Bucharest, Budapest and Baku.
Doubts about the viability of a sprawling tournament had stalked organizers for more than a year, even after UEFA announced the tournament had been pushed back a year. At one point, speculation had mounted that more than half of the host cities would no longer be able to participate, raising hopes in England that the entire tournament might be played there.
Almost all of the stadiums will be operating at reduced capacity, and fans will be required to submit to rapid testing before attending games, UEFA’s Ceferin said in a speech earlier this week.
The final determination of the host cities ended a fraught week for UEFA, which successfully faced down a threat from 12 of Europe’s leading clubs to create an elite breakaway club competition, a tournament that would have destroyed the prestige and value of the Champions League, UEFA’s biggest moneymaker.
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