A cursed tournament that symbolizes hope. Tonight the European Football Championship starts that will already go down in history as the most insane ever. From a scandal surrounding the driving force, over a Belgian disgrace to a pandemic. But also: the first event that heralds the regained freedom.
“It’s a great idea.”
Flashback to June 2012. Michel Platini, president of the European football association UEFA, reveals for the first time his ambitious plans for the European Championship 2020.
No championship in one host country, but spread across Europe. In honor of the 60th anniversary of the tournament. “In these times of cheap flying between different countries, that should be perfectly possible”, the Frenchman motivates his argument.
Did he know much about what was to come…
Platini rond scandal
Apart from some criticism about the environmental impact and questions about organizational complexity, the idea is not buried. On the contrary. In 2014, a European Championship with 13 host countries will be approved.
Only: one year later, great inspirer Platini falls from his pedestal. The Swiss court digs into the darkest corners of global football and uncovers a scandal of bribes. Platini and FIFA boss Sepp Blatter are banned.
Lawyer Aleksander Ceferin is Platini’s successor at UEFA. The heavy inheritance must take the Slovenian into account.
Michel Platini was banned for 8 years over a bribe affair.
Blame with the Eurostadium
The first European Championship fire for Ceferin rages in Belgium. Many have already forgotten it – perhaps for a good thing – but normally our country was host to the opening match and 3 other European Championship matches. And that in a hypermodern arena in Brussels: the Eurostadion.
What was supposed to be a folk festival and tribute to the golden generation turns into red cheeks.
Due to a succession of procedures and refused permits, the grand stadium plans never get off the ground. To the disappointment of the Belgian Football Association and the anger of UEFA. In 2017 it will definitively remove Belgium as a host country.
A huge embarrassment for our country on the international football stage.
The ambitious plans that never materialized: a sketch of the Eurostadium.
Well, for UEFA it was a small stumbling block compared to what was to come. A pandemic is never convenient, but certainly not when you organize a tournament in different countries.
When the corona crisis reaches Europe in March last year, they start to shift a bit uncomfortably in their office chair at the European Football Association.
For a few weeks, Ceferin put on his best poker face by announcing “that the European Championship will go ahead as planned”. But when the virus gains momentum, UEFA decides on March 17 to postpone the tournament for a year.
With the announcement that the name ‘EURO 2020’ will be kept – UEFA’s stubbornness causes laughter.
Symbolically, the idea of this European Championship was beautiful, but it is not an easy task for us. Even without the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Ceferin has to admit that his predecessor’s idea wasn’t so brilliant after all. “Symbolic it was beautiful, but it’s not an easy task for us. Even without the pandemic.”
UEFA then watches with a frightened heart as peaking corona waves flow over the various host countries. Yet it remains – against better judgement – hope for full stadiums in the summer. There are already several emergency scenarios ready behind the scenes. Ranging from a European Championship in one country to matches behind closed doors.
The solution will not be that drastic in the end. In April, UEFA will only have to remove Dublin and Bilbao as host cities. Seville backs down, London welcomes more matches. And the number of fans allowed in the stadiums is limited.
Party of freedom
Tonight the long agony towards EURO 2020 will come to an end. Then a “tournament without borders” in 11 countries, with a (limited) audience and all the big football stars.
But still in bubbles, with endless PCR tests and without crowds in fan villages. “This European Championship is not yet a full celebration of freedom”, football commentator Filip Joos nods from Rome. “It’s going slowly and maybe that’s nice. There is a wisdom that people who have suffered extreme hunger should slowly start eating again.”
At 9 p.m. with the opening game between Italy and Turkey first on the menu. 50 more matches will follow. “Now is the time to show that Europe is starting to come back to life and is back,” said Ceferin.
But whether they would redo their wild plans at UEFA…
Tonight the stage for the first match at the European Championship: the Olympic Stadium in Rome.
Follow the match live tonight with text, images and sound: