The coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak has put a dramatic halt on sport with the NBA, MLS and the PGA tour cancelling scheduled events (CBS Sports), and professional football in England suspended until now the end of April (The FA). There has been much speculation about how sport will move forward, in particular, professional football. Euro 2020, has been postponed until Summer 2021 (BBC). In my opinion, this is the right decision as the health of the population is of utmost importance. However, rescheduling the competition has left some interesting questions awaiting to be answered.
The most important question is; how will it impact the Women’s Euro 2021 Championships? This tournament, which will be hosted in England (The FA) commences from July 7th until early August, giving the players approximately a month to rest before the Women’s Super League and other top European leagues begin play. At present, the postponed 2020 men’s tournament was scheduled to begin on the 12th June, (UEFA), lasting until mid-July. If the men’s tournament is delayed by exactly 12 months, there would be some overlap in the two competitions.
Whilst, stadium clashes will be avoided, will rescheduling the men’s competition next summer, overshadow the women’s tournament? Or will it provide some momentum for the women’s game? This is a delicate balance.
The World Cup last year provided a huge platform for the women’s game and showed how popular women’s sport truly is. England’s World Cup semi-final last summer versus the USA drawing a peak television audience of 11.7m viewers, (BBC). The growth in the women’s game has been further demonstrated at the domestic level, with far larger attendances in the Women’s Super League this year. Television exposure has been argued to have driven this increase. Therefore, the issue of broadcasting then becomes important. Assuming the tournaments do coincide with one another, what is the likelihood that the later stages of the men’s game will take precedent over a women’s group game? Should it?
So given the current Coronavirus situation, what options are available to policymakers at UEFA? (i) To delay the men’s tournament by exactly twelve months and hope it provides enthusiasm for the women’s tournament that will occur with a slight overlap. (ii) either move the men’s tournament a few weeks earlier, the women’s tournament a few weeks later or a combination of both.
Of course, there may be severe implications with either strategy. Moving the women’s tournament may send out an incorrect signal, that UEFA are not that serious about gender equality in football, as it becomes a make-weight of a postponement in the men’s competition, (UEFA). This would be a time-sensitive decision given the recent resignation of the President of US Soccer for certain comments he made in relation to women’s football, (US Soccer) and the recent decision by the FA regarding the Lionesses travel arrangements to the She Believes Cup (The Times).
This may imply that UEFA looks to move the men’s tournament slightly earlier. However, the ability to do so would seriously depend on how it plans to conclude the current season. In addition, with a full calendar next season, it would be very difficult to bring the men’s tournament earlier, without giving players the necessary amount of rest, or changing the format of competition next year.
Overall, the decision to postpone Euro 2020 and reschedule it a year later seemed the obvious choice. However, my concerns are that whether the implications on the women’s game were seriously discussed. For the time being, I’m sure UEFA will be thinking, “Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it” whether rightly or wrongly, when European football resumes.
Dr Johan Rewilak is a lecturer in economics at Aston University Birmingham, England.