While the NFL begins to lick its chops about having full capacities for the 2021 season, and MLB try to find every break and crack they can to start getting fans in from Opening Day, across the pond they’re planning for big returns too.
Today, British Prime Minister/rain-damaged muppet Boris Johnson announced the process by which the UK will start to open back up. The country has seen a pretty impressive vaccination schedule so far, it must be said, with about 17 million getting at least the first shot, or one in three adults. The target is to get every adult vaccinated by July 31st.
Of interest to sports fans is that Johnson’s plan calls for the opening of soccer stadiums on May 17 to a quarter capacity or 10,000, whichever is lower. That would see fans back for the last game of the Premier League season. The League Cup final is hoping to be something of a trial for the opening of stadiums in late April, and you can probably foresee the FA Cup Final on May 15th being another.
Perhaps the key part of the proposed process is that large events may be allowed after June 21st according to the timeline, and assuming no hiccups such as new variants of the virus or vaccine troubles. Which would be in time for the semifinals and final of Euro 2020(1), which are at Wembley Stadium. It won’t come soon enough for England’s opening game of the tournament on June 13th, though again that might be held with some sort of trial status to get more than just the 10,000 fans inside. It would be in time for England’s third group game.
It’s not that simple of course for the whole tournament. Vaccinations have lagged in the European union behind the UK (probably delighting Brexit supporters to no end), and most countries still have rigorous lockdowns in place. The tournament is scheduled across 12 cities on the continent, and UEFA has so far shown no willingness to bend from that. While rates are falling across Europe, UK included, they’re not falling at a rate that would suggest every site is going to have full stadiums, or even any fans at all, for the tournament.
And it won’t be that simple for the UK either. Both London and Glasgow will host games, but will travel bans be the same? Will they be altered for the tournament? As of now, according to the plan international travel can’t resume until May 17th at the earliest. June 22nd is supposed to see England host the Czech Republic in their final group game. Will the Czechs be allowed any fans if everything goes according to plan? Will other teams think England have an unfair advantage if they can play in front of a full stadium of supporters but Italy or Ireland or Spain can’t? Italy has basically closed the door on any stadiums reopening this season. So has Germany. It’s probably best to circle back to this in April, when UEFA has given hosts until to submit a plan about how fans might be allowed in. If a site doesn’t have one, we can probably expect those games to be moved to a site that does.
It seems strange to be talking about full stadiums anywhere for a tournament in June, on the same day that the UK announced even tighter restrictions for soccer teams having to play games abroad. Teams that are involved in the Champions League or Europa League, or players who have to go off to international duty late next month, will have to quarantine for 10 days upon return. That quarantine does allow for travel to the team’s training site and stadium or to other stadiums for away games, but nothing else. They have to stay home when not at work, basically.
So the goal of a fully in-song Wembley watching Gareth Southgate’s side struggle to score or comprehend what Eric Dier is doing in the side just four months from now seems a few bridges too far. But we might get there.