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FSA Cymru update: March 2021

Welcome to FSA Cymru’s first update of 2021 – which will of course be navigating the upcoming Euros and a potential return for supporters…

Although this is an update, it is not exactly what we would like to be writing because although it’s March we are still very much in the dark about what this year will bring in regard to fans attending matches, especially away games.

Fan Embassies

Most of you are aware that we run fan Embassies at all Wales away games, this relies on support from the Home office and the FA Wales (FAW), and works well because a lot of the work can be done in advance in order to prepare for every eventuality.

When it comes to a tournament like we’re expecting this summer, it’s a whole new concept. Preparation is even more important and you have to cover many cities and in this case countries, just in case Welsh fans may have to visit them.

This has just not been possible this time and we really are going to have to get ready for a few different scenarios. Luckily, FSA Cymru are part of Football Supporters Europe (FSE) and they coordinate up to 24 different fan Embassies during tournaments.

UEFA provides funding for them to employ someone full time a year, or in this case two years in advance to assist all the fan Embassy teams and keep us updated whenever there is anything to report, Matt Willis is the co-ordinator for Euro 2020(2021) fan embassy project, and I have been in discussions with him for over a year now.

What follows is how we see it today, the beginning of March, just three short months to the start of the tournament. There’s still some uncertainty – so what follows is speculation based on some knowledge but tempered with the fact that things can change from week to week.

Host Cities

So far we know there are 12 host cities and UEFA want to keep those 12 host cities as planned.

UEFA are pushing governments of host cities to allow fans to attend, albeit in limited capacity stadia. There are different levels of infections in each country.

The government of each country will decide what the rules will be for games to be hosted. We are still looking to have the following questions answered:

  • Are the governments of all 12 host countries willing to still host games in their cities?
  • If they allow fans in, what sort of capacity and regulations will be in place?
  • What happens if two, three, four, or more say they can no longer host games; will the remaining games be allocated to the remaining host cities?

Match Tickets

UEFA opened a portal in January for fans to return tickets, we estimate in Wales about 50% took the option, possibly more. We cannot get answers about how many supporters of other national teams took up the refund option – but the fact that all our fixtures were set to be ‘away’ games, this likely impacted the take up among Wales fans.

The portal helped supporters who were worried about travel, or those who needed get their money back, but it really helped UEFA, because they knew there was the possibility of reduced capacity and this ticket return will make it easier for them to work in limited capacity stadiums.

So, what happens now with tickets? Again, this is another question we cannot answer until at least April, when UEFA have said they will make their final decisions, but there could be a lot of scenarios in place again which are so difficult to prepare for:

  • If some host cities drop out are original tickets valid for new venue
  • What if you have a ticket for the venue but its oversubscribed due to reduced capacity, will there be a ballot?
  • What happens to tickets that fans have bought and want to attend but cannot get transport or are not allowed to travel, do tickets go back on sale?
  • Is it possible that due to host cities dropping out and possible travel restrictions, UEFA simply refund everyone who originally bought tickets and retained them and then put tickets back on sale to suit the venues and capacities they can then guarantee?
  • Will ANY away fans be allowed to travel to foreign countries in June, if so what percentage of tickets are they going to get, or will the idea be that tickets are mainly sold to people living in the host countries?
  • Can Welsh fans buy new tickets, if they have returned original ones and new tickets become available, providing that we can travel?

It really is a minefield and a concern for those who still retain tickets and we believe it is possible that there may not be 12 host cities come June due to individual government decisions.

So Welsh fans who have retained tickets for Rome and Baku, where do they stand? It’s all well and good saying the tickets are still valid if Baku games are moved to St Petersburg for example, but what about the transport issues that change would make? We will be putting these questions to UEFA. We are guessing that not many flights are still booked due to COVID-19.

Many fans have had flights refunded while some are still trying to get refunds. And the ones that do decide to still go will be in a mad rush to get flights after the decisions are made in April.

Travel
Welsh fans are exceptionally durable and capable of arranging transport and travel to just about anywhere, but this is a different world at the moment and there is so much uncertainty.

Ahead of the Euros, we suspect it’s not going to be easy to get flights, well not cheap ones at this late stage – and the airport experience will be vastly different to what we’re used to.

Vaccines and COVID-19 testing

Again, this could be different in each host country which makes things even more complicated and possibly expensive for fans in some instances. We are hopeful things will be far healthier come June but currently we have to consider the following:

  • Will countries only accept visiting supporters if they have had the vaccines?
  • Will you need a negative COVID-19 test before being allowed to leave the UK (It can cost over £130 for a PCR test)?
  • Will you then need another test to move from say Baku to Rome (this could be costly and add significant delays to travel between games)?
  • Will there still be a need to be kept isolated in a hotel on the return to the UK?

Conclusion

Hosting a tournament across 12 nations is a huge challenge at the best of times, nevermind during a during pandemic, but Wales fans have got on with it and planned as best they can – at great expense with many outlays already made on travel and accommodation unrecoverable.

We are fewer than 100 days away from the kick-off and we still have no idea of the confirmed venues, whether tickets will be available or whether any of us are allowed to travel.

What we do know is Welsh fans are resilient and if there is a way they will get to the games, regardless of the obstacles. This is just one of the reasons we still intend providing a fan embassy service.

We are just so sorry there are no answers to the many questions we keep getting asked but we will, through the FSE, and Matt, our fan embassy coordinator, keep at UEFA looking to get information out to the supporters as soon as there is any concrete news to give you.

Wales games this year

Unfortunately, despite every effort being made by football clubs and the FAW, the Welsh government are very reluctant to allow supporters back into stadiums anytime soon, hopefully with cases dropping and the vaccine being administered this situation will change.

We know we cannot travel to Belgium for our fixture later this month; the game has already been moved from Brussels to the smaller town of Leuven.

We then have two home games at the end of the month which again be played behind closed doors.

We have Albania at home in a warm-up game before the Euros this game at the start of June – we are hoping that a limited number of fans will be allowed access into the stadium, again this will depend on COVID-19 restrictions.

That takes us to three away games in September and October and these are targets we hope that we can aim for in regard to travelling away to matches following Wales.

Should you book flights now? Well that still carries a risk and we know the longer we leave things the more expensive it gets. It may be worth reading your airline’s, or insurance companies, terms and conditions to see if they cover COVID-19 cancellations.

Use Credit cards where there is a chance of refunds if all else fails. Only book accommodation that is free to cancel but probably the best advice is to hang fire and wait, assess the situation as time goes by. Look at the countries we are travelling to and how they are coping with the virus, but whatever you do try to get insurance to cover every eventuality,

We send our sincere condolences to any of our members who have lost loved ones due to this pandemic, hopefully this virus is getting under control and we can try to move on with our lives after this terrible year.

Football can be a great distraction from reality, especially when you are winning. Wales away is a unique experience that we can all look forward to in the future, win or lose it has always been the craic. So, trying to end on a positive note, hope to see you all sooner rather than later, preferably in some unpronounceable street somewhere away far away from home and any mention of “lockdown”.

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