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NI's play-off in limbo as sport hit by coronavirus



On the ball: Steven Davis takes on Bosnia in Sarajevo during the Nations League in 2018

On the ball: Steven Davis takes on Bosnia in Sarajevo during the Nations League in 2018

@INPHO/Presseye/William Cherry

On the ball: Steven Davis takes on Bosnia in Sarajevo during the Nations League in 2018

Northern Ireland's Euro 2020 semi-final play-off in Bosnia & Herzegovina on March 26 will be up for discussion at an emergency Uefa meeting on Tuesday.

European football's governing body have announced they will hold video conference meetings next week to debate their response to the coronavirus.

Some have questioned why Uefa are not making decisions sooner after a host of governing bodies around the globe this week postponed matches or events indefinitely.

There is growing belief amongst the football fraternity that the Euro 2020 finals, scheduled to take place from June 12 to July 12 in various nations across the continent, will be postponed for one year.

Northern Ireland would love to play in the finals whenever they are held but there is serious doubt whether their play-off fixture away to Bosnia & Herzegovina will go ahead this month.

It is the same scenario for the Republic of Ireland's trip to Slovakia on March 26. The ties could set up a potential all-island play-off final at Windsor Park if Mick McCarthy and Michael O'Neill's teams are successful.

Both Slovakia and Bosnia, who Northern Ireland faced in the Nations League, have written to Uefa in the hope that the games will be postponed.

As part of their measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus, Bosnia have banned entry to the country for citizens of Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Iran, South Korea and China.

In a letter to Uefa, the Bosnian FA explained that would have a major impact on many of their players, who play club football in some of those nations, being able to enter the country for the play-off with Northern Ireland.

Also on the agenda at the Uefa conference will be domestic and European competitions. Some leagues around Europe have suspended football but action in the UK is set to continue for now.

The Northern Ireland Football League, in conjunction with the Irish FA, last night said that all this weekend's fixtures will go ahead, while also stating that a further update today would follow regarding the arrangements for the Institute v Cliftonville fixture. The Amateur League has been cancelled for two weeks.

Speaking about the British government's latest stance on combating the spread of Covid-19, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that while sporting fixtures may be banned in the near future, it will not happen immediately.

In contrast, Republic of Ireland Taoiseach Leo Varadkar declared as part of their new stance on the coronavirus that all outdoor gatherings of over 500 people and indoor gatherings of 100 people should be cancelled until March 29.

That led to the rugby, GAA and hockey sporting bodies across the island pulling the plug on their sports.

Hockey Ireland said they were suspending their activities and directed clubs and schools to do the same while the GAA postponed matches, training and team gatherings.

The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) suspended domestic rugby throughout the island. In football, the League of Ireland is in the same boat. The popular St Patrick's Day rugby and GAA schools' finals in Northern Ireland have also been postponed.

When the Ulster Rugby team will play again is unknown after the Pro14 announced they were suspending the league season indefinitely. Ulster are due to face Toulouse in France on April 5 in the last-eight of the Champions Cup, but there is no guarantee that will go ahead as planned.

In New York on St Patrick's Day, Belfast boxer Michael Conlan will fight Colombian Belmar Preciado behind closed doors at Madison Square Garden while Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell will finish the Players golf tournament with no crowds despite being watched by fans in yesterday's first round.

Meanwhile, Ireland's two largest golfing bodies have issued guidelines to all clubs on keeping staff and members safe. Down Royal will run its St Patrick's Day meeting behind closed doors.

Cricket Ireland have ordered the cancellation of all training sessions for the rest of the month and will make an announcement on the scheduled tour to Zimbabwe in the coming days.

Belfast Telegraph