ROME (Reuters) - The decision to push back soccer’s European Championship and Copa America by a year because of the coronavirus epidemic were the biggest but far from the last of many such calls to be made on the sport’s ravaged calendar.
European soccer’s governing body UEFA, amid pressure to find time to complete the major domestic leagues that are all currently suspended, announced on Tuesday that Euro 2020 was delayed by 12 months after an emergency video conference with all 55 of its affiliated national federations.
It was the most obvious first step, which was quickly followed by South American soccer body CONMEBOL’s decision to postpone the Copa America by a year, with the tournament being held on the same dates as the European Championship from June 11-July 11 and featuring dozens of players based in Europe.
Setting up the new Euro 2021, probably across the same 12 nations as the original plan, will be a logistical and financial challenge but one that UEFA is confident of carrying off.
“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 president Aleksander Ceferin said after announcing the postponement on Tuesday.
“The health of fans, staff and players has to be our number one priority and in that spirit, UEFA tabled a range of options so that competitions can finish this season safely and I’m proud of the response of my colleagues across European football.”
The women’s European Championship is due to be held in England in the late summer of 2021, while FIFA’s revamped Club World Cup in China is currently pencilled in from June 17-July 4 and will feature eight European club sides.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino issued a statement on Tuesday saying that soccer’s world governing body would look at all the options to help accommodate the changes, including postponing the Club World Cup, possibly to as late as 2023.
Additional clashes are with the European Under-21 Championship, set for June in Slovenia and Hungary, and the UEFA Nations League finals, though UEFA is ready to move them where possible.
UEFA said it was working with everyone involved in a bid to find a practical way around the clashes.
“The Nations League finals, the Euro Under-21s and Women’s Euros, all scheduled between June and July 2021, will be re-scheduled,” UEFA said in a statement, without giving details of proposed new dates.
UEFA said it was committed to getting domestic league competitions completed by the end of June and would look at possible adaptations of the 2020/21 Champions League and Europa League qualifying rounds if that did not happen.
The Gold Cup in the United States is also scheduled for the summer of 2021, with the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon taking place in January/February - drawing heavily on Europe-based players.
In addition, European World Cup qualifying matches for Qatar 2022 are set to begin in March 2021, and another two matchdays scheduled for June would presumably need to be moved to make way for the Euros.
How these competitions will eventually intertwine remains something for the governing bodies to wrestle with.
Meanwhile clubs, particularly at lower levels, face a devastating impact on their income, with players’ union FIFPRO warning of mass layoffs and financial hardship for players.
Even if the 2019/20 season is completed by July or August, the following campaign would not be able to start until September or October, to give players some rest.
A late start to the domestic season could make it difficult for 2020/21 to reach a conclusion before the rescheduled European Championship, perhaps forcing some sort of truncated season.
If that did not happen, there is the possibility of almost continuous football taking place between this summer and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
That tournament is set to be staged from Nov. 21-Dec. 18, the first time it will be staged in the winter months.
Reporting by Alasdair Mackenzie, additional reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Angus MacSwan and Ken Ferris
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