Nine of the 11 hosts — all except Azerbaijan and Romania — qualified for the 24-team tournament, giving tens of thousands of fans the chance to see at least two home games.
That’s a better outcome than having a single host nation, like France in 2016 and Germany in 2024, which most likely would have had to shut borders to many visiting fans. Back in 2012, the strongest bidder for the 2020 tournament was Turkey, a country which just had the Champions League final taken away for the second straight year.
“We have a big advantage that we have a lot of home teams,” UEFA tournament director Martin Kallen told The Associated Press.
More than 50,000 Hungarian fans could be inside Puskas Arena in Budapest to watch the host team play World Cup champion France and defending European champion Portugal in Group F. About 30,000 Russians should be allowed in the stadium in St. Petersburg to see their team host top-ranked Belgium and neighboring Finland in Group B.
Kallen acknowledged the logistics of a late move to a single-host option were “in principle impossible” as the pandemic surged in the European winter.
And not necessarily safer.
UEFA hired Switzerland’s top public health official overseeing the pandemic response last year, Dr. Daniel Koch, as an advisor on Euro 2020 crowd issues. He saw the risk in having 24 sets of fans moving around a single country.
“I think it was a wrong estimation to think it would be much easier if (Euro 2020) was only in one (place),” Koch told the AP.
Having 12 different hosts, until Dublin dropped out in April, gave UEFA flexibility and a wide sweep of governments focused on health and security issues.
“The risk that (a local epidemic) goes wild is much less,” Koch said.
Fan issues were the uncertain factor this year because UEFA proved last August with the Champions League and Europa League mini-tournaments that teams can travel and play safely.
Europe’s 55 national teams also have played Nations League games, Euro 2020 playoffs and 2022 World Cup qualifying matches with little disruption, although some players were sidelined by positive tests and self-isolation.
Travel by private jet and strict UEFA-managed protocols at airports and hotels, limiting contact with staff and other customers, are now the norm for international players.
Only two national team games were canceled, both in November. Norway’s public health officials stopped the team from traveling to Romania, and Ukraine players were quarantined in Switzerland.
“The discipline of the teams and professional approach was very good,” Kallen said, noting that for young players “it’s not easy to be in the bubble all the time.”