The FAI have not given up on Dublin staging four European finals matches in June but Uefa are considering rationalising their 12-city approach to the showpiece due to the Covid-19 restrictions.
Although Uefa concedes capacity crowds across the continent are unrealistic for the tournament, they last week informed host cities of a minimum partial attendance of 25%.
In the context of the Aviva Stadium, that means at least 12,000 fans being permitted for the matches featuring Poland, Slovakia and Sweden.
Ireland’s capital was one of a dozen home venues selected by Uefa as part of a first-ever pan-European hosting of the tournament, which was postponed by 12 months due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The 51,000-capacity national stadium is scheduled to stage three group matches and a last-16 tie from June 14 but the cautious and fluid approach adopted by the State around lifting lockdown restrictions has caused uncertainty.
Public health officials are not in a position to guarantee that concession, especially as other sports such as GAA and rugby will be understandably seeking equality for their major fixtures by that stage. It is widely accepted that Covid-19 cases will have to reduce below 100, or the vaccination programme intensifies at pace, before sporting events will feature crowds.
FAI chief executive Jonathan Hill, having confirmed on Friday that Dublin’s survival as a host venue hinged on supporters being allowed into Lansdowne Road, informed delegates on Tuesday of talks on the subject with public health authorities It had been estimated that Dublin’s hosting would generate direct spending by overseas tourists of between €106m and €128m, with exchequer revenues amounting to €26m. It is understood that both Glasgow and Bilbao are facing extra scrutiny over their hosting due to a lack of government assurances around the return of spectators.
Should they, or Dublin, be stripped of the games, the other nine cities are in line to pick up the slack. However, attempts by Boris Johnson’s UK government to take over the entire tournament hosting have been dismissed by Uefa. The European governing body won’t make a final decision on the venues until April 7 but have been busily devising contingencies.
They have sought urgent information from host countries on how they can comply with their minimum requirements. Senior FAI sources were last night pessimistic about the outcome of the assessment. “At the request of Uefa, Dublin’s hosting partners — the FAI, Dublin City Council, Aviva Stadium, and the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media — are examining possible scenarios for staging the games scheduled for Dublin in this Covid-19 environment,” the FAI said yesterday.
“We are in constant dialogue with Uefa and our intention is to work to finalise our best possible scenario consistent with public health guidelines.” International travel restrictions compound the challenge. However, if the restrictions by June make it problematic for fans of Poland, Slovakia and Sweden to fly in, Hill said Uefa would have no issue reselling the tickets to an Irish audience. Given Ireland has a significant population of Polish emigrants, estimated at 120,000, offloading tickets wouldn’t be an issue.
Scotland losing their hosting rights for their first major tournament qualification since 1998 would be a bombshell.
Their vaccination and lockdown easing is on a different trajectory to that of England. “We’ll see whether or not it’s possible at any point along that road for fans to actually be present to witness (the Euros),” Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said yesterday.
Curiously, the Scottish FA yesterday confirmed that their domestic cup final will take place at Hampden Park on May 22. Uefa’s regulations require that the domestic federation hand over control of their stadium to the European body on May 15 ahead of the tournament.