Italy face Turkey in Rome in the opening game of a delayed football tournament.
UEFA Euro 2020, the biggest sporting event in the world since the coronavirus crippled the world, has kicked off, with Italy taking on Turkey in Rome.
The Italian capital is one of 11 cities that will host football matches during the month-long event which has been delayed for a year due to the pandemic.
Attendance at the Stadio Olimpico was limited to 15,000 on Friday, with fans required to have proof of vaccination, test negative or have already had COVID-19.
“After everything that has happened, now that the situation is improving, I think the time has come to start providing the fans with something to be happy about,” Italy coach Roberto Mancini told reporters ahead of the game.
More than a million Europeans have died in the pandemic, including nearly 127,000 Italians. Around 3.7 million people have lost their lives around the world.
The tournament was postponed to March 2020 when countries scrambled to contain outbreaks of the virus and major sporting events around the world were canceled or suspended.
Mark Doyle, associate editor of articles at Goal.com, said that just hosting the tournament was a major victory in and of itself.
“If you had asked me two or three months ago if Rome would be able to organize a match, I would have told you no, the numbers were still too high,” he told Al Jazeera.
“It’s hard to find someone who hasn’t been deeply affected by the loss of a loved one… so just bringing the fans into the stadium, I think that’s a huge achievement.” , did he declare.
While many fear that it will still not be safe to gather large numbers of fans in stadiums across Europe, organizers hope measures including crowd limitations, staggered arrival times for fans and rules physical distancing, among others, will help prevent a resurgence of viral infections, which have fallen sharply in Europe in recent months.
If all goes well, Euro 2020 may give a boost to other major sporting events such as the Tokyo Olympics, which are scheduled to open on July 23 – also a year late. If not, it would be a serious setback that could have ramifications beyond football.
COVID-19 has already had an effect on the tournament, which for the first time is not hosted by one or two nations but is spread across the continent.
Spain captain Sergio Busquets has tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss the team’s first game against Sweden in Sevilla on Monday. Another Spanish player has tested positive, as have two Swedish players. The Spanish team was vaccinated on Friday.
Russian winger Andrey Mostovoy went on to become the first player to be banned from a national team on Friday after testing positive.
Italy’s opener against Turkey will bring together the largest crowd in the country since its full lockdown 15 months ago, even though the stadium will only be filled to 25% of its capacity.
In Rome and elsewhere in Italy, most virus restrictions have been lifted. A midnight curfew and the requirement to wear a mask outside of one’s home are the most tangible ways the pandemic still affects the daily lives of citizens.