The deciding games of this summer’s European soccer championship are staying in London after tournament organizers and the British government reached an agreement, ending speculation that England’s pandemic travel restrictions would prompt the relocation of the semifinals and finals from Wembley Stadium.
The decision, announced on Tuesday, hours before England’s final group-stage game against the Czech Republic at Wembley, came after days of intense talks between European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, which runs the tournament, and local authorities about exemptions to Britain’s pandemic travel rules. UEFA had sought changes that would allow thousands of overseas supporters — and as many as 2,500 V.I.P.s — to attend the semifinals and final in London.
A statement to announce the agreement did not outline what exemptions had been granted. It did, however, state the capacity for the three games had been increased to 75 percent of Wembley’s capacity, a figure of more than 60,000. That means the Euro 2020 final will represent the biggest attendance at a sporting event in Britain since the start of the pandemic.
🏟️ The UK government has announced that more than 60,000 fans will be permitted at the #EURO2020 semi-finals and final at Wembley Stadium, increasing attendance to 75% of capacity for each game.
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“The last 18 months have taught us — both on and off the pitch — how integral fans are to the fabric of the game,” UEFA’s president, Aleksander Ceferin, said in the statement. He was planning to hold more talks with British government officials later on Tuesday, when he attended England’s game at Wembley.
Officials briefed on the statement said there was broad agreement to meet UEFA’s requirement for 2,500 invited guests — including commercial and broadcast partners and soccer dignitaries — to attend the games at Wembley. However, a demand to allow thousands of fans to travel to London for the game from the nations represented in the final games is unlikely to be met.
According to those involved in the negotiations, a dispensation could be made for at most 2,000 supporters from the participating nations, a largely symbolic number that could limit the potential criticism for lifting restrictions for a similar number of V.I.P.s.
The crisis over the Wembley matches arose amid a surge in infection rates in Britain that has forced the government to back away from plans to lift the final restriction on social distancing that had been planned for this week. The spike, linked to a new and aggressive variant of the virus, had already dashed hopes that the final could be played in front of a capacity crowd of 90,000 at Wembley.
The stadium — one of 11 being used across Europe — is currently allowing only 22,500 fans for the three group-stage games. That number will increase to 40,000 for the second of two rounds of 16 matches, but capacity for Italy’s match with Austria on Saturday will remain capped at 22,500.
“As we continue to make progress on our road map out of lockdown, keeping the public safe remains our top priority,” said Oliver Dowden, the British lawmaker responsible for sports.
The ongoing concerns about the spread of the virus were highlighted by the news that several members of the Scotland and England teams who played a game at Wembley last week were now in isolation. The Scottish national team announced on Monday that its young midfielder Billy Gilmour would self isolate after a positive coronavirus test, and England said on Tuesday that two of its players, Ben Chilwell and Mason Mount, who had contact with Gilmour would enter isolation as well. The decision ruled both players out of the match against the Czechs.
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