FAI 'seek clarity' from government over mass gatherings ruling

The association are unsure what today’s announcement will mean for future League of Ireland fixtures and international matches.

A view of the FAI headquarters.
A view of the FAI headquarters.
Image: ©INPHO

THE FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION of Ireland say they will “seek clarity” from the government over today’s announcement that no licences will be given for events of more than 5,000 people until September at the earliest.

The FAI say they will arrange talks with Government and Department of Sport officials  to find out “what this latest ruling will mean for the SSE Airtricity League and also its potential effect on international football if it is extended into September”.

The association originally hoped to recommence the League of Ireland season on 19 June, with the Women’s National League due to start a week later, but this target appears increasingly uncertain following the latest development.

Earlier the FAI had suggested Ireland’s Euro 2020 play-off against Slovakia in Bratislava was “likely” to take place in October, while as many as five Irish international matches could happen before then, with Nations League fixtures scheduled to begin in September.

Speaking to FAI TV today, the association’s Interim CEO Gary Owens said: “This is breaking news this evening and in two respects for us. 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. That is a significant input now into the debate we will be having tomorrow with the National League Executive Committee, 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 the 5th of May when the Government will make their formal decision known.”

Owens added that the FAI were still unsure of the nuances of today’s ruling and the impact it will have on football.

“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.”

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Source: FAI TV/YouTube

On plans to resume both the League of Ireland and Women’s National League in June, Owens said: “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, includes 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.”

Owens is also hopeful that Uefa will permit European ties involving Irish clubs to go ahead in July as planned.

“The latest is they are sticking with the dates. The Irish clubs look like they will be competing on the 28th of 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.”

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Paul Fennessy

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