The FAI has reiterated its commitment to host future major football tournaments after it was finally confirmed that Dublin has lost its hosting rights for the delayed Euro2020 tournament.
Earlier, Polish legend Zbigniew Boniek was first to break news that the three Euro 2020 Group E matches scheduled for Dublin have been switched to St Petersburg.
Boniek is head of the Polish FA and, as a member of Uefa executive committee, is part of a meeting taking place this morning to finalise venues for the pan-European event starting on June 12.
As Dublin, Bilbao and Munich were the only three of 12 cities unable to guarantee a minimum 25 percent attendance for their matches, Uefa granted them a four-day extension from Monday’s deadline.
It is understood that only Munich has retained its fixtures, with Bilbao’s matches remaining within Spain by moving to Seville.
Such is the conservative approach taken by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) to easing lockdown restrictions, opening the Aviva Stadium to the required 11,500 fans was considered a non-runner from last month.
“Seville and St Petersburg – officially,” tweeted Boniek, the former Juventus midfielder. “There is a bit of work ahead of us…we start over – camp, journey and all the logistics.”
The three Group E matches – Poland v Slovakia on June 14, Sweden v Slovakia four days later and the meeting of Poland and the Swedes on the final day of the group stage, June 23 – will be reassigned to Russia.
St Petersburg had committed to a 50 percent capacity for the four matches they were already granted.
That offer is music to the ears of Uefa who are eager to generate ticket revenue in a market decimated by the effects of the pandemic.
The last-16 tie on June 29, potentially between England and Germany or France, is likely to be staged at Wembley Stadium, which already had seven of the fixtures, including the semi-finals and finals.
Fans who purchased tickets for the Dublin matches have been given until Monday by Uefa to seek a refund.
Reacting to Uefa confirmation of the news, Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Catherine Martin said: "Preparations for the hosting of the EURO 2020 games in Dublin were at an advanced stage when the pandemic hit and UEFA took the decision on March 17th 2020 to postpone the tournament. Work on the tournament in Dublin continued into 2021 and we were hopeful that we were all set to host a fantastic tournament in Dublin in June.
"However, despite our commitment to hosting the games the public health situation has meant that we were not able to give UEFA the assurances they required earlier this month in relation to guaranteeing minimum spectator attendance levels at EURO 2020 in Dublin. I would like to take this opportunity to wish UEFA and all of the other host cities well with EURO 2020 and look forward to an exciting tournament in the summer."
FAI President Gerry McAnaney commented: "The Board of the FAI remain fully committed to the World Cup 2030 project which will begin with a feasibility study around our bid in conjunction with our counterparts in Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales. In the immediate future, we will also work together with Government and Sport Ireland now to get Irish football back on the pitch at the earliest possible opportunity and we will continue our journey towards reform and real governance change at next month’s EGM.
"Finally, on behalf of the FAI Board and myself, I would like to thank UEFA for their support throughout this process and wish President Aleksander Čeferin, all the EURO 2020 team and the host cities the very best of luck with this summer’s tournament."
UEFA General Secretary Theodore Theodoridis said: “UEFA acknowledge the disappointment within Irish football that we have had to take this decision but we have made a commitment for fans to be part of the UEFA EURO 2020 Tournament. We just cannot have a game without any fans and an empty stadium at EURO 2020. We fully understand that it was very difficult for the Dublin LOS to find a way to make this possible within the necessary timeframe.
"I wish to acknowledge FAI President Gerry McAnaney for his positive and constructive engagement throughout the decision making process this week. We also value how hard CEO Jonathan Hill and the LOS team have worked to try and resolve this issue and we thank everyone within the Dublin LOS and the Irish people for their commitment and support for this project over the last seven years. We look forward to Dublin hosting a UEFA club final in the near future."
Minister of State for Sport & The Gaeltacht Jack Chambers added: "We are all very disappointed with today’s announcement. However, I understand that this was a difficult decision from UEFA’s point of view. I just want to take this opportunity to acknowledge all of the people who have worked so hard over the past few years preparing to host the games in Dublin. Partners including the FAI, Dublin City Council, the Aviva Stadium, relevant Government Departments, An Garda Síochána, the NTA, volunteers and UEFA staff in Dublin all showed great commitment to making Dublin a great host city.
"However, given the uncertain times in which we are living it was not possible to deliver the games in the manner UEFA would have wished. I am confident that the experience gained by all concerned will put Ireland in a good position to attract such events in the future."
FAI CEO Jonathan Hill also thanked all those who have contributed to the project, saying: "This is of course really disappointing news for Irish sport and for everyone who wanted to showcase Ireland to the world this summer. Since 2014 and the bid win, the excitement around EURO 2020 has been growing and I know how much everyone was looking forward to hosting four outstanding fixtures at the Aviva Stadium in June.
"Like Minister Chambers, I must take this opportunity to thank our bid partners in Dublin City Council in particular, along with our fellow LOS partners in Government and the Aviva Stadium for their unstinting work and collaboration on EURO 2020. I would also like to thank our many support partners and agencies, national and local, along with project leader Declan Conroy and all the LOS and FAI staff and all those who have brought their valuable expertise to this project.
"The Dublin LOS partners have worked tirelessly together since the pandemic first struck last year to facilitate the staging of these games. We would not have got to this point without our colleagues and partners in other organisations and agencies such as An Garda Siochana, NTA, daa, Irish Rail, Dublin Bus, the IRFU, OPW, Dublin Port, Transdev, IHF, Failte Ireland and St Patrick’s Festival and many more together with all the facility owners and suppliers who came onboard with the project.
"So much work has been undertaken since Dublin was awarded host city status in 2014, so many milestones were reached and so many standards were set by all involved. On behalf of the FAI, I would like to thank the 1,200 volunteers from every corner of Ireland - and many of them from hundreds of our clubs across the country - who were ready to assist at the four games and who were, like us, looking forward to showing off Dublin and Ireland as a world class host venue.
"The reality here is that circumstances beyond our control have led to the games being moved and we have to acknowledge that public health must come first in a global pandemic. This is the end of the EURO 2020 project but the dedication and professionalism of all involved makes everyone at the FAI more determined than ever to bring big games and big tournaments to our country and I am delighted that UEFA have recognised our endeavours by agreeing to work with us on big projects for Dublin and Ireland in the future including the staging of a UEFA Club final at the Aviva Stadium after 2023 which is something to really look forward to as we enter our Centenary year.”
Most tickets for the Euros were sold before qualification was complete and despite Ireland’s quest to reach a third successive Euros coming to end with last October’s play-off defeat in Slovakia, a portion of supporters held onto their tickets.
They won’t be the only ones disappointed. Plans for three of the four Group E countries to use Ireland as their training base have now been scrapped.
Carton House had been lined up to house Sweden and Zlatan Ibrahimović while Robert Lewandowski and his Polish side were heading to the Portmarnock Hotel and Malahide United’s training facilities.
Ireland’s conquerors Slovakia assumed the base reserved for the intended hosts, namely the Castleknock Hotel and FAI’s training headquarters in Abbotstown. The Poles have already sourced an alternative in Gdansk, with Slovakia and Sweden set to confirm their back-up preparatory locations.