MADRID (AP) — The Spanish city of Bilbao has been dropped by UEFA as a host for the upcoming European Championship, local authorities said Wednesday.
Bilbao was supposed to be one of 12 cities across the continent to host games for the tournament, but had been unable to give UEFA guarantees that fans would be allowed into the stadium amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The city’s local organizers threatened to sue the European soccer body over its “unilateral” decision to drop Bilbao as a host. It had been scheduled to host Spain’s matches in Group E against Poland, Sweden and Slovakia. It would also host a round-of-16 match.
Organizers published a seven-point letter saying they wouldn’t allow anyone to “damage the image” of Bilbao, which had been preparing for the tournament for more than six years with “professionalism and responsibility.”
They said no one could question the capacity of the city and Basque Country to attract and organize the most varied types of events.
The Spanish soccer federation had said recently that the current pandemic situation in Bilbao made it impossible for fans to be allowed into matches based on the regulations established by health authorities in the northern Basque Country region, one of the hardest hit by the pandemic in Spain.
Other host cities for the June 11-July 11 tournament have given assurances to UEFA that spectators will be allowed into stadiums.
UEFA recently gave Rome, Munich, Bilbao and Dublin an extension to the deadline for providing guarantees on fans being allowed into games. The Italian government last week gave the all-clear for a limited number of fans at the city’s venue, but Munich, Dublin and Bilbao still haven’t offered guarantees.
UEFA’ executive committee is expected to make its final decision on Friday.
The Spanish federation recently offered Seville as an alternative to Bilbao, with games to be played at the La Cartuja Stadium in the southern Andalusia region. The stadium was host to the Copa del Rey finals this month.
UEFA has used another stadium in Seville, Sevilla’s Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán, as a replacement venue after the home team was eliminated from the Champions League. It hosted both legs of the Chelsea-Porto quarterfinal because of travel restrictions between England and Portugal.
The games in Bilbao would have taken place at Athletic Bilbao’s San Mamés Stadium.
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