Amid all the ongoing uncertainty and despite so many politicians having been made to regret their predictions regarding the progress of this pandemic so far, Jonathan Hill says he is confident that Dublin will still stage its four game share of Euro2020 in June and that there will be people in the Aviva Stadium for matches: "it's just a question of how many".
The FAI's new chief executive says talks are ongoing between all of the parties, most obviously the association, Uefa and Government with final decisions on formats and fan numbers expected in the coming weeks. Speaking to reporters on Friday for the first time since his appointment last year, however, Hill seemed convinced that the situation will have progressed to the point where spectators will be permitted into the stadium.
Uefa’s preference is very much for fans from the countries playing the actual games to be allowed travel to attend and Hill still seems hopeful that that might be allowed but, he suggested, the tournament organisers would settle for a significant number of neutrals at this, increasingly late stage of the game.
“Uefa wants to see fans in all 12 of the stadia and all 12 of the cities and we are planning on the basis that we will have fans in the Aviva Stadium,” he says. “That is the current situation and that is the plan.
“We had a meeting of the steering group, the CEOs of the federations that cover the 12 cities on Wednesday morning,” he continued. “It’s fair to say Uefa are pushing forward because of the timetables involved. They have real people who bought real tickets for matches and who bought transport and hotels etcetera too.
“At some point they need to take decisions in relation to the structure of the tournament. What they would like to see, as we all would, is as many people as possible in the grounds to watch the Euro finals play out. That is part of what makes a Euro finals or special. Everyone wants to see that. It is now a situation whereby all 12 of the cities are working with Uefa and their governments to work out how many fans they can get safely into their individual stadia.
“In reality we’re all learning from each other in terms of the approaches that are being taken. We have a four- to six-week period to do that and in early April Uefa will take its decisions. But to be absolutely clear, we are committed to the hosting of our four games and we will have fans in the stadium . . . it’s just a question of how many.”
Asked about its position on Friday, the Department of Sport was rather more circumspect, observing that the current restrictions will be in place until at least April 5th while acknowledging that: “at the request of Uefa, Dublin’s hosting partners are examining possible scenarios for staging the games scheduled for Dublin in this Covid-19 environment. We are in constant dialogue with Uefa and our intention is to work to finalise our best possible scenario consistent with public health guidelines.”
Hill had made it clear that any and all guidlelines will be observed and he acknowledged the challenges involved.
"The atmosphere that is created by two sets of foreign fans is very singular to a Euros or a World Cup finals tournament," he said. "We'd all love to see that but we have to be respectful of the current guidelines. There is clearly a challenge generally for anyone travelling into Ireland, full stop. We will need to review that very carefully in relation to significant numbers of fans in together, to congregate in one place together in the stadium and outside the stadium, so that is part of our discussion with Uefa.
“As to whether Uefa would be happy if 9, 10, 15,000 fans were all Irish, I think they’d be very, very happy with that, so they can have Dublin as one of the 12 cities and everything that Dublin and Ireland bring in relation to their own very singular and unique character. So absolutely, I think it would be acceptable.”
Hill says he is pleased with the way he has settled into the CEO role despite not having made it to Ireland yet. He says that he hopes to move here next month so as to be in place for the start of the World Cup campaign and League of Ireland season with the latter, he also hopes, set to feature crowds at some point too.
He is positive about the association’s involvement in a prospective bid to stage the 2030 World Cup.
“I think it’s absolutely credible. Do I believe we can win it?’ Yes, I do.”