By Padraic Halpin
DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland's Prime Minister said it would be "very challenging" to see fans return to Irish stadiums this summer, but that did not necessarily put at risk Dublin's hosting of Euro 2020 soccer matches as COVID-19 cases rise across Europe.
June's delayed European Championship tournament is due to be hosted in 12 cities across the continent for the first time and host venues have a deadline of April 7 to inform European soccer governing body UEFA of their planned stadium capacities.
Any hosts that cannot guarantee there will be fans in the stadiums risk losing their hosting rights.
Asked if his comments that it will be very challenging to see crowds being allowed at Ireland's national sports of gaelic football and hurling this summer spelled the end of Ireland's Euro 2020 hosting hopes, Prime Minister Micheal Martin said "not necessarily.
"I'm not so sure how many capitals will be able to have spectators given the degree to which the virus is spreading across Europe," he told a news conference after announcing a minor easing of one of Europe's toughest national lockdowns.
"There is continuing engagement with UEFA in relation to that issue so we'll see how that evolves."
While Ireland has one of Europe's lowest incidence rates of COVID-19, the government plans to reopen sectors very gradually with most shops due to stay shut until at least May and hotels potentially only opening in June.
Ireland, whose team failed to qualify for Euro 2020, is due to host three Group E matches between Poland, Slovakia and Sweden at Dublin's Aviva Stadium from June 14, followed by a round of 16 tie on June 29.
UEFA is set to remove its maximum spectator limit, currently set at 30% of a venue's capacity due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in order to allow bigger crowds at Euro 2020 matches in June.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Ken Ferris)