Held across 11 countries, the certainly unique format of the UEFA EURO 2020 soccer tournament had its shortcomings, from which future tournament organizers can glean valuable lessons.
The tournament undoubtedly showcased the thrills of international soccer competitions. The underdogs Switzerland and the Czech Republic defeated perennial contenders France and the Netherlands, respectively, in the Round of 16. Italy avenged its absence from the 2018 World Cup by hoisting the championship trophy. Denmark was a fan favorite, reaching the semifinals even after a nearly tragic episode in its first match that saw its best player, Christian Eriksen, collapse from a cardiac arrest on the field. Eriksen was released from the hospital six days later after receiving a defibrillator.
This summer’s Euros also featured 10 own goals, more than all other previous tournaments combined. While the record-breaking tally may be a mere coincidence, it could also speak to the added fatigue players experienced as a result of the increased travel in the tournament.
Venues for EURO 2020 stretched from Seville, Spain, to Baku, Azerbaijan, a staggering 3,700 miles that forced several teams to travel absurd distances. Switzerland, who lost in the quarterfinal against Spain, had to travel a total of over 7,000 miles in under three weeks. More than at any previous tournaments, players at EURO 2020 had to cope with exhausting plane rides and jet lag, factors that Switzerland Head Coach Vladimir Petkovic decried in a press conference after his team’s early victory against Turkey.
The distance between venues was also a logistical nightmare for fans, who had only a few days in between matches to figure out a way to travel to their team’s next destination. COVID-19 made travel even more difficult with quarantine requirements. Many stadiums were already operating at a fraction of their capacity because of COVID-19 restrictions, but the added complications of travel created situations where the number of fans in attendance in certain stadiums was far below even the reduced capacity.
Maximizing fan attendance was clearly a problem at EURO 2020, one that UEFA inflicted upon itself with its new hosting format. FIFA should avoid that problem as it prepares for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, to be held in the United States, Canada and Mexico, regardless of the complications caused by COVID-19.
Several major tournaments have taken place in multiple countries — the 2002 World Cup was held in Japan and South Korea, EURO 2000 in Belgium and the Netherlands, EURO 2008 in Switzerland and Austria and EURO 2012 in Poland and Ukraine — but those were all held in neighboring countries that are a fraction of the size of the United States, Mexico and Canada.
The proposed 2026 venues stretch far and wide to each coast of the United States, as far north as Edmonton, Canada, and as far south as Mexico City. The miles players may be required to travel throughout the tournament will quickly add up and may take a toll on their performance.
To simplify travel, rather than having teams arbitrarily schlep from coast to coast, each group should play its group stage matches within a specific geographical area. For example, a western region could consist of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Denver; a northeastern region could feature New York, Toronto and Washington, D.C.
EURO 2020’s multinational hosting approach was an attempt to make the tournament a truly continental endeavor, bringing the action to countries that may not have otherwise had the opportunity to host. For the future health and enjoyment of the players and fans, however, it is important to remember grandeur does not always translate into success.
Christian Baldari is a rising sophomore in the College. The Upper 90º Report appears online every other week.