UEFA is nearing a decision to postpone the European Championship by a year to 2021 as the continent grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Thursday.
The governing body has been assessing the options over how and when its flagship national teams' competition can be staged amid an escalating public health emergency. A final decision will come when the UEFA executive committee meets on Tuesday after talks with clubs and leagues.
But the person said delaying Euro 2020 by a year is the main option now being explored at UEFA, which had been insisting publicly up to this week that the 24-team tournament would go ahead as planned.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss talks about the sport's response to the spread of COVID-19 that was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on Wednesday.
This was already shaping up to the be the most challenging Euros ever staged by UEFA because 12 stadiums in 12 different nations were being used, starting in Rome on June 12 and ending on July 12 with the final at Wembley.
Postponing the European Championship provides potential space in the calendar for UEFA club competitions and domestic leagues to complete seasons that are now being affected by the coronavirus.
The Italian and Spanish leagues are on hold, while UEFA has postponed the remaining Champions League last-16 second legs that were scheduled for next week. Both the squads of Real Madrid, which was due to play at Manchester City, and Juventus, which was due to host Lyon, are in quarantine after the clubs were hit by cases of the virus at their clubs.
As the week has progressed, it has seemed increasingly harder for UEFA to stage one of the biggest sporting events across Europe in three months.
UEFA earlier said in a statement that Euro 2020 would be part of discussions about “European football’s response to the outbreak” when a videoconference is held on Tuesday involving the 55 member associations, a representative of players' union FIFPRO and the boards of the European Club Association and the European Leagues.
UEFA said the talks were “in the light of the ongoing developments in the spread of COVID-19 across Europe and the changing analysis of the World Health Organisation.”
One of the key figures involved in the talks is self-isolating. Juventus confirmed to the AP that chairman Andrea Agnelli, who chairs the European Club Association, has taken the precautionary quarantine decision after one of the Serie A team's players — defender Daniele Rugani — tested positive for the virus.
There is already a potential gap in the football calendar across June and July 2021 to play the Euros since FIFA has yet to secure funding or a decision on a final format for the planned revamped 24-team Club World Cup that is due to be hosted by China.
Moving the men's Euros would have a knock-on effect for the women's version that was due to be played in England from July 11 to August 1 in 2021. UEFA is exploring moving the Women's Euros to 2022.
But for now there is no indication when sport can fully return to normal. According to the latest count, 126,000 people have been infected worldwide, 68,000 have recovered and 4,600 have died.
There are only mild or moderate symptoms for most people, such as fever and cough. The virus can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, for older adults and people with existing health problems.