The German interior minister has called Uefa’s decision to hold the Euro 2020 semi-finals and finals in the UK “absolutely irresponsible”, at a time when the country is battling the highly infectious Delta coronavirus variant.
“I suspect that once again it’s all about commercial [interests],” Horst Seehofer told reporters in Berlin on Thursday. “But commercial interests should not override the need to protect people from infections.”
Seehofer said he considered the position taken by European football’s governing body “absolutely irresponsible, because we are in a pandemic and precisely in countries like Great Britain we’re seeing a sharp increase in infections”.
“[In such a situation], it is imperative to avoid contact and adhere to hygiene regulations if we are to stop infections [spreading],” he added, saying it was clear infection would be spread by people standing close to each other and hugging after goals were scored.
Seehofer said that at the Euro 2020 matches held in Munich last month, authorities had enforced strict rules, only allowing 14,000 fans into a stadium that has a capacity of 80,000.
“People sat far from each other, and that worked,” he said. “I can’t explain why Uefa isn’t following this line of common sense.”
Responding to the German minister’s comments, David Koch, Uefa’s Euro 2020 medical adviser, said it could not be totally excluded that events and gatherings could lead to a local rise in cases. But he said that applied to any kind of situation “now allowed as part of the easing measures decided by the competent local authorities”.
“The intensive vaccination campaigns that have been rolled out across Europe and the border controls will help ensure that no new big wave will start in Europe and put pressure on the respective health systems, as was the case during the previous infection waves,” Koch said.
Seehofer’s intervention comes after German chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian prime minister Mario Draghi raised similar concerns last week about Uefa’s decision to keep the final matches of the tournament at London’s Wembley Stadium as planned.
Rising cases of the Delta variant in the UK prompted Prime Minister Boris Johnson to extend coronavirus-related restrictions in England beyond June 21, the date they had been due to be lifted.
Big European football matches that went ahead in spring last year have been described as “superspreader” events that helped coronavirus take hold and authorities across the continent have since been wary of allowing mass gatherings.
But choosing a safe, alternative location to London would be difficult. The highly transmissible Delta variant is rapidly gaining ground in Germany, Italy and across Europe and could reverse declining case rates in the coming weeks.
Uefa and the UK government are holding talks to allow about 2,000 overseas fans and 2,000 VIP delegates to attend the July 6 and 7 semi-finals and July 11 final. The exact number of spectators will depend on the teams that qualify for the matches, and whether they are on the UK’s amber or red travel list. The vast majority of tickets will be sold to UK residents.
Foreign attendees will escape the UK’s strictest quarantine restrictions to attend the games, but will be told to remain in a “bubble” — allowed only to travel between airports, hotels and the stadium. Those attending for just one match would leave the UK within 24 hours of entry.
Some UK politicians and travel industry figures have attacked these measures, as other overseas arrivals must still quarantine for up to 10 days.