COVID-19 restrictions force home World Cup qualifier to be played in Poland
The Estonian national football team's World Cup qualifier clash with the Czech Republic Wednesday will now be played in Poland after a conflict between domestic coronavirus restrictions and UEFA rules meant the game could not go ahead at the A. Le Coq Arena in Tallinn.
Estonia had been due to play at home – the game will still count as a home match – against the Czech Republic in the opening encounter of the team's campaign for qualification at next year's World Cup Finals in Qatar.
However, ERR's sports portal reports, outdoor sports competitions in Estonia are capped at 100 participants (including organizers, staff etc.), while UEFA rules require a minimum of 150 attendees for a game to go ahead.
While the Estonian FA had applied to the culture ministry for an exemption from the domestic rules, i.e. to allow the game to go ahead with 150 people present, the decision was made instead to hold the match in Lublin, Poland, with kick-off now scheduled for 9.45 p.m. Estonian time.
Under Polish coronavirus regulations, 150 people – which UEFA allocates into categories of players (46, including substitutes etc. for both teams combined), staff (40, including managers, team doctors etc.), referee, linesman and fourth referee, plus a handful of each of observers and delegates, UEFA representatives, organizers, first responders and police, security staff and media personnel.
Stadia throughout the qualifiers are additionally divided into zones to segregate the 150 people in attendance – for instance a 14,000-seater stadium would be split into three zones of 50 people each; attendees may not pass out of their zone into another one, while the usual mask-wearing, social distancing and proof of negative COVID-19 test are all required.
The change will cost the Estonian FA close to €300,000, ERR's sports portal reports, including travel and stadium rental costs. Lublin is considerably closer to the Czech Republic – since the two countries border – than it is to Estonia.
Estonia recently overtook the Czech Republic as the country worldwide with the highest 14-day coronavirus rate per 100,000 inhabitants.
The Estonian national team is traveling by charter flight to Lublin from Tallinn Tuesday morning,
The game will still be broadcast live by ETV2 and on ERR's sports portal, with Estonian commentary, though the broadcast time has been moved back to 9.25 p.m. Estonian time (UTC +2 hours), with kickoff at 9.45. p.m.
The national team squad and fixtures list for the qualifier campaign is here.
This article was updated to include the revised kickoff time.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte