25ft inflatable flies over Belgium vs Iceland game to question why an academy stadium is being used for a major tournament

Cheeky Irish bookmaker Paddy Power is causing mischief again, this time poking fun at the unacceptably low-key and unambitious stadia that has been picked for this summer’s Women’s Euros.

To shine a spotlight on their footballing faux pas, the bookie floated a giant inflatable arrow in the Northwest corner of Man City’s Academy Stadium during tonight’s Belgium v Iceland match, literally pointing out that Manchester City’s 55,000-capacity Etihad Stadium, a mere Ederson goal-kick (650 metres) away, is free and available in the background – with football officials at the game so embarrassed they eventually took the inflatable taken down.

The massive 25x11x5ft inflatable carries the tongue-in-cheek message, “Anyone seen a stadium big enough for a Euros game?” and could be seen floating at the corner of the open stadium by players, fans and any UEFA or FA suits in attendance, as the sold-out match played out in front of a reduced-capacity crowd.

Paddy’s mischief makers were confronted by football officials outside of the stadium just after launching the inflatable, with the balloon being removed by authorities a few minutes after being inflated – but not before being seen by eagle-eyed fans in the ground and immediately shared on Twitter.

Two ends of Man City’s Academy Stadium are standing terraces and one end of Leigh Sports Village, another chosen stadium, is also standing only (something not permitted in UEFA competitions) meaning normal capacity is reduced for games at these venues from the already measly 7,000 and 12,000 respectively – a move which many, including current Iceland captain Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir, have branded “disgraceful” and “embarrassing”.

Women’s EURO 2022 fixtures at the Manchester City Academy Stadium, including Iceland vs Italy and Italy vs Belgium, are also sell-outs, indicating a strong demand for tickets in the city and amongst fans generally, and further raises questions about the decision to host the game at such a small venue.

The Icelandic captain Gunnarsdóttir, who was playing in Iceland vs Belgium on Sunday when the giant inflatable popped up at the Academy Stadium, has spoken publicly over her disappointment about the way the stadium selection has been handled.

“It’s shocking” she said, “you’re playing in England, you have so many stadiums, and we have a training ground from City. It’s just embarrassing.”

Recent research undertaken by Paddy Power shows two-thirds (67%) of Brits think that the venue selections are a shame or show a lack of respect, with another two-thirds (66%) saying the stadium decisions for the competition will be detrimental to the progression of women’s football.

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