UEFA medical chiefs are confident teams and fans crisscrossing the continent for the Euro 2020 knockout stages will not have a detrimental impact on public health amid the coronavirus pandemic.
England are the only team who will not be travelling to a new destination for the last 16 of a tournament which is spread across 11 countries.
However, the tournament’s medical adviser Dr Daniel Koch believes the benefits of the Euros must be balanced in the same way as other industries.
“Every day, a lot of lorry drivers are running around Europe, thousands and thousands every day, and they are not tested, they are not restricted,” he said.
“Europe is interconnected, it’s heavily interconnected, the virus will not stop at the borders. We can restrict it but we cannot avoid it. I think that’s why we have to be in a balance.
“Not only in business and industry, you have to look at all the things which make people and societies better off.
“The sports, and all these issues, have to be in a balance. And if you put all this in balance I think there is no question that just this few thousand people travelling to the football matches are not making the difference.”
Euro 2020 chief medical officer Dr Zoran Bahtijarevic said the movement would not have a negative impact on the teams either, and that in some cases it was safer to travel internationally than within one country.
“If the teams are respecting the recommendations that we give them and all the things we put in place for their safety and they’re really respecting the bubble, I would say within some countries the risk is lower when travelling internationally than nationally,” he said.
He said teams would continue to move from bubble to bubble – training camps to hotels and stadia. Transit is in buses driven by people who have been tested or vaccinated, with chartered flights and special boarding procedures in place to minimise the risk of infection at airports.
“There is very little influence, if any, from outside toward the bubble, and then there is also very little influence of the teams on the public health in the designated area,” he said.
“I would use this opportunity to congratulate all the teams that qualified, but also to call them once again to respect the bubble-to-bubble behaviour in their best interests and in the interests of public health.”
Dr Koch was asked about the wisdom of inviting more than 60,000 fans to Wembley for the semi-final and final. It emerged after the medical briefing that the Danish authorities attributed 29 Covid-19 infections to the three group matches played in Copenhagen, including three fans becoming infected with the Delta variant following the Denmark v Belgium match on June 17.
“For the moment, what we’ve seen in Europe is that filling up the stadiums partly is a safe thing to do,” Dr Koch said.
“The Euro is a very important event, because it creates joy, it creates happiness in the population.
“We will not have enough children moving and doing enough sport if we cut up their idols, if we cut up where they are getting their inspiration from.
“We will always have to look at what we are measuring against and Europe has to go back to some normality, because for a healthy population in Europe sport is a very important issue.”
The doctors would not go into specifics regarding the case of Scotland midfielder Billy Gilmour, whose positive Covid test has forced his Chelsea team-mates Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell into isolation after they spent time with him after the England v Scotland match on June 18.
On how it was possible that no other Scotland player could be deemed a close contact of Gilmour, Dr Bahtirajevic would only point out the measures taken to keep players at a safe distance even when travelling.
“The message being learned and it’s a message to all the other teams that we should respect the bubble at all costs in the sense that we should really behave responsibly at all times,” he said.
“Obviously the incident you are referring to happened after the match in the tunnel. But the decisions about who is going to be isolated (and) for how long still lays in the hands of the local authorities.
“Some local authorities are less rigorous, some are more rigorous but I would say that each and every authority has that right and responsibility to make such decisions.
“Although I don’t know the details, local authorities were satisfied with how the Scottish team was respecting those recommendations (to mitigate against infection), that’s my only explanation to that.”