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Will the coronavirus affect Euro2020?

Wednesday 26th February 2020
Serie A already play matches behind closed doors. If the EU are more reluctant than China to ban travel, will the coronavirus play havoc with Euro2020?
Serie A already play matches behind closed doors. If the EU are more reluctant than China to ban travel, will the coronavirus play havoc with Euro2020?

Manchester United fans can tell you about conspiracy theory. A large cross-section of Red Devils supporters believe the club’s owners siphon off billions while not reinvesting in the club. The Glazers conspiracy barely scratches the surface of nefarious plots in which various football groups supposedly engage, however. In the Premier League alone, several clubs allegedly keep VAR in their pocket. Just down the road from Old Trafford, Manchester City supporters and the club’s ownership believe UEFA has it in for them.

In Spain, fans of 19 clubs [but especially Barcelona and Atletico Madrid] will tell you the RFEF caters to Real Madrid’s every whim. In Italy, the same can be said regarding Juventus even though their demotion in 2006 following the Calciopoli scandal either belies the theory or suggests the Old Lady’s influence isn’t without limits. While many fans take these conspiracies as fact and a few among them move to great lengths to battle the evil that executives do, football remains an entertainment, a distraction. In the main, it’s harmless.

Other conspiracies can do great harm. Take the coronavirus. While China is hardly the planet’s most open country and rebuffed early offers from other governments [notably the US] willing to send scientists to aid in containing the outbreak, accusations that a Wuhan laboratory engineered COVID-19 make it even more difficult for governments, doctors and researchers to work together or obtain reliable information to protect their citizens and patients. United States senator Tom Cotton threw fuel on the fire.

We don’t have evidence that this disease originated there but because of China’s duplicity and dishonesty from the beginning, we need to at least ask the question to see what the evidence says.

It should be noted Cotton is Republican. As such, he voted not to hear witnesses or new evidence in President Trump’s recent Senate impeachment trial. Political posturing and xenophobic remarks won't inspire trust when it's desperately needed.

Speed Science

Unfortunately, neither is the preponderance of unreliable research published since the outbreak. Reuters reports “at least” 153 papers already published on the coronavirus. It took more than 18 months for a similar body of research to be conducted following the SARS outbreak. Of the 153 papers to date, only 61 are peer-reviewed. One attempted to connect the disease to HIV. Another postulates it originated in space. Those searching for a way to contain the disease and develop immunisation must sift through the wild theories as well as the more measured studies, hoping to find clues to contain and immunise against the infection.

The process will take time even as the disease spreads. China’s policy of locking down cities and towns to contain the outbreak appears to be successful. Reported cases peaked in late January and now decline. Still, the virus continues to pop up in other countries, creating panic and political turmoil.

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Beijing also cancelled the Chinese Super League campaign. In Italy, Serie A, Europa and Champions League matches will be played behind closed doors this week and possibly for weeks to come. Meanwhile, Olympique Lyonnais contacted UEFA, concerned about nearly 3,000 Juve fans who travelled to their city for tonight’s Champions League tie at the Stade de Lyon. Even if the group isn’t allowed into the ground, they've interacted with people in Lyon's restaurants, shoppes and hotels. In transit, they mingled with strangers on trains and buses and used restrooms at service areas en route when travelling by car. While the EU’s free movement policy may be optimal for spreading economic wealth, it’s even better for a pandemic.

Serie A president Paolo dal Pinto petitioned his government to continue playing games in empty stadia for the immediate future because there isn’t space in the calendar for makeup games with the European Championships beginning shortly after the campaign concludes.

But what about Euro2020? When announced, UEFA celebrated the concept of holding a tournament across Europe rather than in one nation. So far, quarantining cities and towns, closing businesses, prohibiting large gatherings and issuing travel bans remain the only successful tactics in battling the coronavirus. The concept behind Euro2020 and, in smaller numbers, the Champions League and Europa League finals, was to encourage fans in the hundred-thousands to travel around the continent taking in matches. Can they now? Will they?

Discovering an effective vaccine in the next 15 weeks is a big ask but health authorities and pharmaceutical companies then require time to produce and distribute it. If a vaccine cannot be found and made available to the public in time, the best hope, for now, is that the virus runs its course naturally. At the moment, it seems too robust to bank on the possibility and, travelling on a Schengen visa, threatens to disrupt UEFA’s flagship competitions.

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Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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