Much of the focus for EURO 2020 naturally was on the pitch, but there were plenty of interesting happenings off the pitch that kept us all talking, writes Michelle Osei Bonsu.
After a year’s delay due to COVID-19, the UEFA Euro 2020 tournament finally got underway this past June with much fanfare. The latest edition of one of the most keenly followed quadrennial competitions in football was also unlike anything fans have ever seen.
For starters, rather than being hosted in one country, or perhaps two, 11 different cities across 11 countries were honoured with having matches played at their venues. This meant that the tournament would cover thousands of kilometres, from London all the way to Baku in Azerbaijan, serving up a diverse range of football venues for those watching at home.
Yet besides the football – which largely provided great entertainment throughout – there were many off-the-pitch issues that kept fans buzzing. For instance, who knew that a simple action from Cristiano Ronaldo could wipe billions from the value of a multinational conglomerate like Coca-Cola? Sure, the soft drink giant is worth an estimated €205 billion. But it didn’t go unnoticed that share prices plummeted 1.6% immediately in the aftermath of Ronaldo’s intervention, as Coke saw its market value drop to around €201 billion almost straight away.
Cristiano Ronaldo pushed aside two Coke bottles and showed off his love of water at the start of Portugal's pre-match press conference pic.twitter.com/uGdVZBIo5E
— PA Dugout (@PAdugout) June 15, 2021
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner, during his press conference before Portugal’s clash with Hungary, moved Coca-Cola’s bottles aside and shook a bottle of water at the gathered press to urge everyone to drink water instead. Coca-Cola, who have been a corporate partner of UEFA for over 30 years, were certainly nonplussed and issued a blunt response in an attempt to quell the buzz.
That didn’t stop other players, including Paul Pogba and Manuel Locatelli, from staging copycat stunts after seeing the effect Ronaldo had. It’s safe to say that whilst their fizzy drink protest didn’t hit Coca-Cola’s finances the same way Ronaldo’s did, Coke and UEFA will be having some serious discussions on implementing measures to avoid a repeat of this at future competitions.
Elsewhere, the practice of taking a knee was a significant feature of EURO 2020. The act started in the United States with American football player Colin Kaepernick back in 2016 and became part of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement that has now taken root worldwide, following George Floyd’s untimely death at the hands of police officer Derek Chauvin in May 2020.
Italy decided to take the knee in solidarity with Belgium before the quarter-finals and England before the Final, putting Ukraine’s refusal during their quarter-final clash with the Three Lions into even starker contrast. This was hardly shocking though, as neither did Croatia nor the Czech Republic. North Macedonia, Hungary and Russia also chose not to take the knee.
Indeed, Hungary’s fans even marched with banners showing their opposition to taking a knee. As it turned out, none of the Eastern European countries featuring at this summer’s event decided to get involved, while there were several Western European nations, such as the Netherlands, Austria and Sweden, who opted instead to make their anti-racism statements in a different way.
The BLM-affiliated gesture has been quite controversial and divisive in its native United States due to the perceived political connotations. It should come as little surprise that not every European nation competing at EURO 2020 decided to participate and show their support. After all, political statements are generally frowned on by UEFA, who believe they have no place on the pitch as far as football is concerned.
That didn’t stop Germany from attempting to stage their own anti-discrimination protest, with the focus being on the LGBT community. Ahead of their final group game against Hungary, Munich’s authorities decided they wanted the famed Allianz Arena lit up in rainbow colours. June is LGBT Pride month, but Germany’s reasons for lighting up the stadium weren’t just because of that.
It was to make a statement against Hungary, who had recently passed some laws in their country that many felt were discriminatory towards the LGBT community. In addition, members of the Hungarian fan base had flown anti-LGBT banners during their matches against France and Portugal. Germany, as hosts, wanted to make their stance clear. However, UEFA felt otherwise, noting that it could be perceived as a political stance and cause Hungary and their supporters’ offence.
— Leon Goretzka (@leongoretzka_) June 23, 2021
Quite how equality is a political issue is another matter entirely. Still, Germany had other ideas despite the setback, with captain Manuel Neuer sporting a rainbow armband. Furthermore, other cities across the country decided to light up their stadiums in support of LGBT communities.
Finally, COVID-19 reared its ugly head again, despite many countries making a great deal of progress since the virus first appeared. Before the tournament kicked off, Spain’s skipper, Sergio Busquets, tested positive, and the Barcelona star’s diagnosis forced the entire team into isolation. Fortunately, it didn’t impact La Roja’s participation at the actual event.
England also had to deal with COVID, with both Ben Chilwell and Mason Mount forced into self-isolation after coming into contact with Scotland’s Billy Gilmour. Eventual winners Italy also had a scare in their ranks but fortunately, despite three members of the Italian media testing positive, none of the players and coaching staff were affected.
At one point, COVID became a sticking point for the English government and UEFA, with the latter threatening to move the semi-finals and the final to Hungary. The issue? Admittance of around 2,500 VIPs and other officials without having to subject them to a long quarantine period.
Not surprisingly, England’s government capitulated quickly, especially as they were faced with the prospect of losing a lot of revenue if Wembley didn’t host the semis and the final. As it turned out, the final was a wonderful spectacle as England took on Italy in a match that kept fans and neutrals alike entertained from start to finish.
Now that the latest edition of the Euros is in the books, we will have to wait another three years for another month of action featuring teams from across the continent. Who knows what other social issues and matters of interest will come to the fore in 2024, when 23 other countries and their fans will convene on Germany to battle it out for the coveted prize.