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Soccer-Irish PM says UEFA 'out of order' with Euro 2020 spectator demands

FILE PHOTO: Ireland's Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Micheal Martin speaks to the media as he arrives for the European Union leaders face-to-face summit in Brussels, Belgium October 16, 2020. REUTERS/Johanna Geron/Pool/File Photo

DUBLIN (Reuters) - UEFA is “out of order” in demanding fans be present during Euro 2020 games considering COVID-19 infection levels, Ireland’s Prime Minister said on Sunday, days after the country was stripped of four matches for refusing to guarantee attendance.

Four games planned for Dublin were moved on Friday to St. Petersburg and Wembley Stadium in London after the Irish government said it could not fulfil UEFA’s demand that it guarantee stadiums be filled to at least 25% capacity. The Spanish city of Bilbao was also stripped of matches.

“I thought UEFA were out of order, quite frankly, putting that condition on countries,” Prime Minister Micheál Martin told RTE television in an interview.

“If you look at what’s happening all over Europe in terms of the B117 (COVID-19 variant) and in terms of the high incidence in European member state countries, to ... be putting obligations on countries to force spectators in prematurely in my view it was a wrong call,” he said. “I never thought it was a realistic proposition.”

Euro 2020 runs from June 11 to July 11 having been postponed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ireland has one of the lowest COVID-19 infection rates in Europe but is opting for a slower reopening of its economy than most of its European peers after the relaxation of measures in December triggered a huge spike in cases.

Reporting by Conor Humphries, editing by Ed Osmond