Limiting virus transmission during a Sporting Mega Event: COVID-19 and UEFA EURO 2020

Lead Research Organisation: University of Stirling
Department Name: School of Health Sciences

Abstract

The EURO 2020 football tournament, scheduled to take place across various European cities in June and July 2021, will be the first Sporting Mega Event (SME) to take place since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. SMEs present a challenge to public health and Governments as the circulation of athletes and supporters poses issues for different risk environments. Therefore, it is imperative that we analyse, inform and evaluate the COVID-19 mitigation measures and related behaviours around large sporting events. The tournament organisers UEFA have stated a preference for spectators to attend EURO 2020 matches where local restrictions permit, with appropriate mitigation measures in place. However, the third wave of COVID-19 spreading across Europe in Spring 2021 has meant that the number of spectators attending the tournament is likely to be reduced. Following the EURO 2020 tournament, the Rugby League World Cup (RLWC) is due to take place in various stadia across England in October and November 2021 in a similar format to the EURO 2020 tournament. It is therefore likely that the RLWC will be the first SME since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic to take place with full capacity crowds in attendance.

This project will therefore study both SMEs with respect to their adherence, mitigation and policies to limit virus transmission. These tournaments provide a unique opportunity to study i) the guidelines issued to host cities and, in particular, host venues for EURO 2020 and RLWC matches to limit transmission of COVID-19 and how these are applied; and ii) supporters' attitudes and experiences regarding mitigation measures during the tournaments. Adopting a mixed-method approach incorporating three Work Packages (WPs), the project will address fundamental gaps in the knowledge base regarding the safe hosting of SMEs and other mass gatherings in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, WP1 will contextualise UEFA'S policies with host nations' approaches to reducing the transmission of COVID-19 by analysing policy documents, emerging evidence and stakeholder views; WP2 will measure spectators' experiences regarding COVID-19 mitigation measures through an online questionnaire with those who attended UK-based EURO 2020 matches; and WP3 will involve participant observation and data collection at EURO 2020 and RLWC tournament sites to monitor COVID-19 mitigation measures. The project offers the opportunity to provide practical evidence regarding measures to mitigate virus transmission risks during EURO 2020 to inform the planning and delivery of the RLWC. Overall, the project will examine, inform and improve the implementation and effectiveness of COVID-19 mitigating measures for the UEFA EURO 2020 tournament, RLWC and future similar large sporting or cultural events.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description This study provides evidence regarding measures to mitigate virus transmission risks during EURO 2020 to inform the planning and delivery of future large sporting or cultural events.
Key findings:
• Spectators were provided with information before attending EURO 2020 matches via email and push notifications from the UEFA EURO 2020 app. Miscommunication from the tournament organizers led to confusion regarding the wearing of face coverings and the requirement to show proof of a negative test/vaccination to gain entry.
• Spectators were given a 30-minute time slot to arrive at the stadium, sometimes more than 3 hours before the match. Those who did not adhere to this time slot cited the lack of entertainment and affordable refreshments on offer within the stadia.
• Proof of negative lateral flow test/proof of vaccination was required at Wembley stadium. However, this check was not always conducted and when it was, the test result was not cross-referenced with the spectators' ID.
• Gaining entry was described as a complicated procedure as it required two different apps and for the electronic ticket to be 'activated' via a QR code. Older spectators or those unfamiliar with the technology struggled with this.
• During the semi-final and final, there were many examples of individuals attempting to gain entry to Wembley using screenshots of tickets on their mobile phones. When they were turned away, they had no route away from the stadium so were able to access the turnstiles and gain entry to the stadium. This led to overcrowding and further risk of transmission.
• Mitigation measures such as mask-wearing and physical distancing had low compliance within the stadia, with regular announcements on video screens being greeted with hostility by some spectators.
• Limited intervention from stewards meant that those who did not comply with measures went unchallenged.
• No procedure was in place for egress leading to crowded exits where physical distancing was not possible. Face coverings were also noted as being largely absent as spectators exited the stadia.
Exploitation Route We provide several key recommendations which should be put into practice at future sporting and culture events during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond to limit virus transmission:
• Spectators need to be provided with clear, up to date information regarding entry procedures and mitigation.
• If proof of vaccination status or proof of a negative test is to be implemented at events with large attendances, staggered entry may be required to avoid large queues. To support staggered entry, offerings within the stadia/premises need to be attractive and competitively priced.
• Ticketing and entry processes need to be clear and straightforward and, if possible, information should be held in one place to limit the need for multiple apps or websites.
• Mitigation measures within the stadia need to be enforced or alternative approaches considered so that mitigation measures are adopted as the 'new normal' by spectators.
• Egress procedures need to be developed and implemented to ensure safe departure from the event.
Sectors Healthcare,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Transport

 
Description Briefing to Scottish Government COVID-19 analysis Division
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
 
Description Roundtable event on limiting Covid-19 transmission during sporting events 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We are currently engaging organisations to speak at the above event, which already includes a commitment to speak by the SGSA, Department of Health & Social Care, University of Stirling and fieldworkers who contributed to our research at EURO 2020 venues.
This event is an opportunity to look back at guidance and recommendations developed over the last 2 years on limiting COVID-19 virus transmission, some of the challenges faced in implementing protocols for large scale events, and how future events and governing bodies are 'building-in' readiness for public health and biosecurity concerns at future sports events. Speakers include the Sports Ground Safety Association, Department of Health & Social Care, University of Stirling and fieldworkers who contributed to our research at EURO 2020 venues.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022