FAI to seek clarification from Department of Sport on mass gatherings ruling

Thu, Apr 23 2020

The FAI will seek meetings with Government and Department of Sport officials on new proposals to ban mass gatherings of more than 5,000 people until August 31st.

The FAI plans to pursue clarification of the announcement and its implications for the SSE Airtricity League and also its possible impact on international football if it is subsequently extended.

The Football Association of Ireland’s Interim CEO Gary Owens told FAI TV: “The obvious question is, can we hold the international matches in the autumn period?

“We really need to be able to hold those matches and have mass gatherings in September. Hopefully we can get to the end of August and that 5,000 limit will be increased.

“On the other hand, it gives us an opportunity with the League of Ireland clubs because 5,000 could now be a level on which we could now resume the League of Ireland.

“That is a significant input and we need to take that into account, along with all the other factors which we are now analysing in advance of making a decision on 5th May when the Government will make their formal decision known.”

Owens also confirmed plans to talk to Government officials as soon as practicable about this latest edict.

He added, “Like everything else, the devil is in the detail. We really need to understand what they mean by 5,000 in terms of mass gatherings and whether that applies in stadiums and what are the criteria we would have to comply with.

“We have been working with the medical team in UEFA who are helping us with guidelines but obviously, we need to talk to the HSE and try and understand whether or not they would allow mass gatherings in football stadiums and if they do up to that level of 5,000, that could be a significant breakthrough for us.”

The SSE Airtricity League is currently planned to recommence on June 19th, with the Women’s National League fixed to start a week later.

 “We will wait until we hear what the HSE and the Government have to say on May 5th. We are working through the National League Executive Committee and we are considering all the options.

“We have a number of scenarios which include putting it back and include working behind closed doors. It includes looking at restricted stadiums so I think until we hear what the government have to say and what their advice is, we really can’t make a decision.

“I think the most important thing for us at the moment is to analyse all the options, look at all the scenarios and be ready to make a decision that is appropriate.”

According to Owens, UEFA remain committed to dates in late July for Irish clubs to enter next season’s European club competitions.

He explained: “The latest is they are sticking with the dates. The Irish clubs look like they will be competing on 28th July so that is probably the most optimistic date. They have two options, one starting 28th July and one only a week later so they are still committed to making sure the European qualifying competitions for our clubs take place in late July and early August.”

The Republic of Ireland’s EURO 2020 Play-Off Semi-Final away to Slovakia is now likely to be played in October, with UEFA Nations League games to go ahead as planned in September.

Owens, who participated in a tele-conference meeting with UEFA on Tuesday, told FAI TV that new Ireland boss Stephen Kenny could have as many as five games played before the trip to Bratislava.

Owens disclosed: “There has been a slight move on that. Originally, we thought it may well be November but it now looks like the semi-final is the preferred option in October.

“They don’t want to have the semi-final and the final of the play-offs in the one month. It looks like the Nations League matches will be in September and October with the semi-final play-off in October and the final play-off in November.”

Republic of Ireland were originally expecting to play Slovakia on March 26th while their Nations League group also includes Bulgaria, Finland and Wales. The original schedule planned Ireland kicking-off their UEFA Nations League campaign with a trip to Bulgaria on Thursday 3 September before hosting Finland three days later and then Wales on 10 October.

Delegates from the FAI and the National League Executive Committee (NLEC) have been examining a number of possible options for domestic football in Ireland:

  • A resumption for the SSE Airtricity League behind closed doors on 19 June, with the season to end no later than the end of December, a behind-closed-doors policy to operate as long as HSE guidelines recommend. 

  • A resumption as planned on 19 June with stadium restrictions in line with HSE guidelines, including behind closed doors games or a reduced capacity at 25% or 50%, the season to run until the end of December. 

  • A resumption in July or August, based on Government advice and HSE guidelines. 

  • A deferral of all national league activity until September with a reduced fixture programme season to run until the end of December.

  • A resumption of national league football in September, with a full fixture programme season to run until the end of February 2021.

The NLEC and the FAI have said they will continue to work together with the SSE Airtricity League clubs to study the financial impact of all options available, with a final recommendation to be made ahead of a Government declaration on 5 May regarding any extension to the present lockdown.

There is a further possibility that FIFA will be in a position to cover some loss in revenue that may be incurred as well as the option of any possible revenue that can be brought in from live streaming.