What happened today?
With just seven weeks remaining before Italy and Turkey kick off the delayed Euro 2020 finals in Rome, Uefa were anxious to finalise the line-up of venues for the tournament.
Dublin was one of three cities among the 12 hosts unable to provide guarantees of 25 per cent crowds for their games by last Monday’s deadline. Munich used the four-day extension to convince their government to allow 14,500 into the Allianz Arena while the Spanish FA succeeded in gaining permission to switch matches from Bilbao to Seville.
Ireland is the sole country from the original dozen to be stripped of its hosting rights, seeing their group matches transferred by Uefa’s executive committee to St Petersburg and the last-16 one to London.
What’s my next move if I bought tickets for the matches in Dublin?
Do nothing and you will be automatically refunded. The vast majority of tickets were purchased before the qualification series concluded last November and Irish fans were entitled to get their money back in January when Uefa opened a portal.
Those that retained their tickets on the expectation of still getting to see the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovi?, Robert Lewandowski and Marek Hamšík won’t be automatically entitled to keep them if they’d somehow fancy trekking to St Petersburg.
In a surprise move, Uefa today confirmed that all tickets were cancelled. They did add that the existing ticket holders will receive priority access on a first come, first served basis for the corresponding rearranged fixtures.
Probably of more interest to Irish fans is a seat in a half-full Wembley for a potentially blockbuster last-16 clash between England and Germany or France.
How and when did Ireland become a host in the first place?
It has been planned since 2014 for multiple cities to host the 24-nation showpiece to mark the tournament’s 60th anniversary.
John Delaney, then FAI chief executive, trumpeted his feat of delivering a first-ever, albeit partial, hosting of a major tournament in Ireland.
Those plans fell asunder 12 months ago when the pandemic hit, initially curtailing all football before games returned with limited crowds in some of the countries granted hosting rights. Uefa were forced to postpone the scheduled tournament in June 2020 by 12 months.
What games were due to be staged in Dublin?
Had matters gone differently, either by Mick McCarthy’s side beating Denmark in the final Euro qualifier or Stephen Kenny guiding Ireland to victory against Slovakia and then Northern Ireland in the playoff series, Ireland would have had home advantage for two of their three group matches in the finals.
Instead, Slovakia took Ireland’s place in Group E. They were due to face Poland on June 14th and Sweden four days later. The meeting of Poland and Sweden on the final day of the group stage, June 23rd, was the third, with a last-16 tie on June 29th also pencilled in for the Dublin 4 venue.
What conditions did Uefa set for Ireland to preserve their games?
To open up their stadium to 25 per cent capacity. That equates to 11,500 fans when media and hospitality are deducted from the 51,000 seats.
Despite the varying Covid-19 landscape across Europe, both inside and outside the European Union, Uefa set an average target of 50 percent capacity for the tournament.
The following are the commitments given by the 11 host cities: Amsterdam (12,000), London (22,500), Munich (14,500), Rome (18,000), Seville (19,000), Baku (34,000), St Petersburg (34,000), Budapest (67,000), Bucharest (13,000), Glasgow (13,000) and Copenhagen (12,000).
St Petersburg’s offer to absorb Dublin’s three matches was warmly welcomed by Uefa, as was London’s interest in the last-16 tie.
Why is Ireland an outlier when it comes to allowing fans into stadia?
Apart from a couple of hundred fans being allowed into League of Ireland games for a few weeks late last summer, soccer supporters have been kept locked out of fixtures since Covid-19 first visited these shores 13 months ago.
The significant jump in positive Covid-19 cases in January emboldened the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) to adopt a cautious approach to avoid a fourth wave during 2021. Harsh lessons from mistakes of the past, whereby people were allowed to socialise indoors, extended into a hardened attitude towards all public gatherings.
Once new FAI chief executive Jonathan Hill revealed in March that hosting was conditional on supporters inside the ground, Ireland’s ability to comply was in serious jeopardy. Intensive lobbying by Dublin City Council and the FAI took place but the health authorities stood firm, with no real appetite around the cabinet table to push the boat out.
Unlike Scotland, who are looking forward to a first major tournament since 1998, there were no senior politicians personally involving themselves in negotiations to ensure Uefa suits were appeased.