Alexey Sorokin, Russia’s Euro 2020 Organizing Committee chief, says the country has the “most favorable circumstances” of all host nations to hold the football tournament with regard to the Covid-19 pandemic in an interview to RT.
The northern Russian city of St Petersburg was chosen as one of the 12 host cities for the pan-continental tournament, and Sorokin says the decrease in number of infections there and in Moscow, as well as the stadium and city’s experience of hosting games at the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup, makes it the perfect location to host games.
Sorokin, who also served as Local Organizing Committee (LOC) head for the FIFA showpiece in 2018, talked about a possibly lottery system to refund tickets already bought by fans should their numbers be restricted at Euro 2020, which has been postponed from last summer due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“From all Euro 2020 host-countries, Russia has the most favorable situation,” Sorokin said. “The very quality of the game hasn’t suffered great changes, but the realization that the stadiums, even in the best case, will be only half full is a worry.
“I imagine how it affects the players. We have already heard complaints that it’s not great playing in empty arenas. In that case, Russia has the most favorable conditions.”
The pandemic has seen the calendar truncated of every sport and has seen alterations brought in to try and keep up with the ever-changing sporting landscape in connection with the pandemic.
Sorokin says that finding a compromise in such unforgiving circumstances has been a huge task for UEFA.
“[Reorganizing the match calendar] forces us to work harder to find the correct formats. It is really hard work. Over the course of a few months, that particular UEFA department has been overrun with work because they have a Herculean task in front of them: to find a compromise between observing all norms, preserving health, and the need to follow the tournament calendar.
“A portion of those matches has been lost, the question of compensation to broadcasters came up. Fortunately, a general tournament configuration has been preserved. I think that this year, we will see a plan to return to a normal schedule.
“Here we’re not talking about plusses and minuses, rather about compulsory measures. Taking into account the difficult situation last summer, the tournament could simply not be carried out at the initially planned times and based on an at least somewhat acceptable format.
“Last year gave us the opportunity to rethink a few things. The big part of our thought process concerned how to conduct the tournament in the most integral way. Our colleagues cannot today boast of the gradual normalization and the scrapping of restrictions.
“We are holding meetings, and there are problems in many cities: somewhere has a full lockdown, somewhere has a partial lockdown. Elsewhere, no places are open whatsoever.”
The question of receiving supporters in any nation given the stringent travel restrictions between countries means the tournament poses significant difficulties in the fundamentals of hosting a major sporting event.
Sorokin believes that St Petersburg is in the most advantageous position in relation to other host cities and that the positive experience of Russia and St Petersburg hosting the World Cup play a part.
“If Euro 2020 went on right now, difficulties would arise with receiving supporters. Therefore the host countries asked to postpone the decision on the maximum number to April, in so far as discussions with authorities in March were quite difficult for many.
“Today the number of coronavirus infections has decreased in Moscow as in St Petersburg. Obviously, the vaccination and the increase in the number of people with antibodies is playing a part.
“Everything is changing every day, but it’s nice that it’s changing for the better. Today we would ask the authorities to allow Euro 2020 matches to take place in St Petersburg with stadiums half full.
“At the very worst, that’s what we’re striving for. Fortunately, UEFA will make a separate decision on every city considering the circumstances of each.
“In this regard we are a reliable partner for UEFA. They understand that we have a very experienced team, they know how cohesively the city, the stadium and the organizing committee works.
“Together we have already held many matches in St Petersburg on a high international level. We simply don’t envision any problems for UEFA. I hope that the delegates’ visit will demonstrate this once again.”
Should the number of fans be restricted at Euro 2020, Sorokin believes that, although it may not be the most beneficial option, a lottery would have to be organized to refund those tickets to supporters having already bought their seats at the tournament.
“It’s still early to talk about that. Refunding the money for tickets is a bad option for us as much as UEFA. How we will refund tickets, we still don’t know yet.
“Logic predicts that most likely a lottery will have to be organized. UEFA earlier announced a deadline (January 26) up until when people could voluntarily submit receipts, but not many reached that stage.
“Russian supporters showed special persistence in their wish to visit Euro 2020 matches. Returning tickets will become a compulsory measure, which will be accompanied by apologies. Unfortunately, there’s nothing anyone can do here, everyone is ready for such a development of the situation. It’s a blessing that the tournament is going ahead at all.”