International hosts for international events: Euro 2020

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Even if you don’t care about sports or athletics, you’ve probably heard about the massive and necessary cancellations and postponements of sporting events around the globe in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Maybe your family is at loose ends with nothing to watch because most, if not all, U.S. professional sports are on hiatus. Maybe one of your friends is still disappointed that they won’t be watching the Olympic Games this year. Maybe, if you’re a soccer fan, you’re lamenting the fact that the next UEFA European Championship, or Euro 2020, will have to wait another year.

Even if you’re not a soccer fan, though, you should be taking note of Euro 2020. The competition will be called Euro 2020 despite its 2021 start date in order to avoid wasting promotional materials that have already been produced, but that sustainable mindset is only a small part of what makes this competition a potential game changer in the world of international sports competitions.

The most interesting and noteworthy aspect of Euro 2020 is its hosting format — rather than a solitary host or a pair of hosts working in concert, as has been the case for every previous iteration of the tournament, the upcoming European Championship will be hosted by 12 cities across 12 countries.

This Pan-European setup is a celebration of the competition’s 60th anniversary; it’s meant to be a unique format, and the tournament will revert to the standard, single-nation host version in the following years.

But this new model should not be a singularity or a one-off. Should Euro 2020 prove successful, its design could be the modus operandi for all large-scale international soccer competitions to come.

The FIFA World Cups in 2014 (Brazil) and 2018 (Russia) cost the host countries upward of $11 billion to produce. While these investments can and do improve public transportation systems, provide jobs and create public works projects, they can also be detrimental to communities.

Stadiums from Brazil’s hosting of the world’s most prestigious soccer competition sit empty and largely unused after costing $3 billion to construct. Reports have emerged that low-income residents near tournament sites have faced forced eviction, and activists argue that hosting international sports competitions can lead to gentrification and displacement in the interest of maintaining a public image.

International competitions and tournaments may increase tourist spending as fans flood the host country, but the travel industry does not wholly benefit. The British Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport estimated that total tourist spending had increased after the 2012 Olympic Games, but total numbers of tourists had actually decreased as many regular tourists were driven away by the prospect of the crowds and disruption a large sporting competition promised. Sports fans may spend more, but they are also less likely to visit regular tourist destinations, depriving those businesses of a regular stream of revenue.

When a single country hosts an international soccer competition, it faces pressure to increase stadium and transport capacity, as well as brand itself to foreign fans and media. This can bring demonstrable harm to local communities. An international hosting format, such as Euro 2020’s, could diffuse those responsibilities. 

Euro 2020 will utilize stadiums that have already been constructed in cities that will have infrastructure to support getting fans to those stadiums. While an international set of host cities does mean that fans and players will have to do more traveling, that mileage will be reduced, as each group in the tournament will be hosted by just two cities. Nations that have qualified and also have a host city will play a majority of their games at home. The system is by no means perfect — Switzerland’s team will fly from Azerbaijan to Italy and back to Azerbaijan in just eight days — but future employers of this hosting model could plan in a way that reduces the geographic stresses placed on teams and fans.

Ultimately, Euro 2020 may have revealed a solution to the pitfalls posed by hosting international competitions, which could, in fact, enhance those same competitions. The celebratory atmosphere will be lost in a single nation, but it will be spread out to cities and countries across a continent. 

Fans will be able to watch games in person at stadiums down the road, rather than on television sets in restaurants or living rooms. Nations that would be unable to host the entirety of a tournament can each present a single city to represent them and their passion for sports to the world. What better way is there to host an international competition than internationally?

Euro 2020 may not take place this summer, but you should be watching nonetheless. The soccer will be entertaining, but spectators will bear witness to a new method of hosting and can look for ways to improve it so that in the future, all fans and hosts will be able to equally enjoy international sports.

Jasper Kenzo Sundeen covers men’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected].