Spanish sickness leaves Irish U-21 women in Euro limbo

The Irish Under-21 women’s fate in the top tier of the EuroHockey Junior Championships – and their subsequent 2020 Junior World Cup hopes – at the next meeting of the EHF Executive Board.

It follows the cancellation of Ireland’s game with Spain on the final day of competition due to widespread illness in the Spanish camp with medical advice stating they should not travel to the pitches in Valencia for fear of further infection.

Five Spanish women’s players had to be taken to hospital with food poisoning with more from their panel also taken ill. It followed their men playing their delayed semi-final short-handed with Ignacio Cobos in hospital on Saturday with eight others in their panel citing ailments.

Ireland’s women face a nervous wait over their Euro future. Pic: Frank Uijlenbroek/World Sport Pics

Three umpires, who were staying in the same hotel, also required time out with a couple going to the hospital.

It means that the women’s competition remains incomplete. The tie was a must-win fixture for Ireland to retain their place in the top tier for 2019 while Spain needed to avoid losing by three goals to retain their place.

The knock-on effect of relegation would mean that either side would not be in a position to qualify for the Junior World Cup with the 2019 Junior Euros acting as the qualification tournament.

In a statement from the European Hockey Federation about the cancellation, they said a final decision will be made at a later date.

“The EHF regrets to announce that, under advice from the Tournament Medical Doctor, the Spanish teams are not allowed to play either of their final games of the EuroHockey Junior Championships.

“After consultation with the Tournament Directors and the EHF Representative, it was agreed that these circumstances are not provided for in the Regulations and therefore EHF Regulations for EuroHockey Championships (Outdoor) Item D6 applies.

“In the Men’s EuroHockey Junior Championship, the 3rd/4th Bronze medal game was not played and Germany is awarded the Bronze medal.

“In the Women’s EuroHockey Junior Championship, Spain will not play their final Pool C v Ireland. Given these unprecedented circumstances, the two TDs and the EHF Representative have agreed to defer any further decisions to the EHF Executive Board.

“We fully understand the importance of these decisions for all teams affected. We wish all players a full recovery.”

The cited Rule D6 says that “if during a tournament circumstances arise which are not provided for in the regulations, they will be determined by the TD after consulting the representative of the EHF”.

In usual circumstances, a team’s refusal to take the field would result in a forfeit of the game in question. However, the Tournament Directors have deemed these “unprecedented circumstances” with neither Spanish side refusing to play but denied their ability to do so on medical advice.

Some have argued on Twitter that a precedent has been set from the men’s tournament by the awarding of the bronze medal to Germany ahead of Spain though no official score has been entered into the official records as of Monday morning.

When it comes to resolving the women’s tournament with relegation on the line, it is a more complex affair. Should the judgement at the EHF Board meeting be that Spain forfeited, they would be relegated.

Otherwise, potential solutions have been mooted of a test match or series between Ireland and Spain to complete the tournament. There are numerous logistical problems with this. Should only the players in Valencia be allowed line out?

If so, is it feasible for, say, Edel Nyland to fly back in from the US where she is on scholarship for one game and miss part of her regular season? A number of Spanish players are also contracted with Belgian clubs.

If players are allowed be brought in in that scenario, it could work in Ireland’s favour with more of their senior panel being Under-21 than Spains with Zoe Wilson, Ayeisha McFerran and Lena Tice eligible. Only Lucia Jimenez was part of their senior set-up this summer.

Alternatively, the simplest edition would be to run a nine-team tournament in 2019 with no relegation from the 2017 competition, adding the two promoted sides to the seven that competed in Valencia.

Whatever happens, it is unsatisfactory finish to the summer for Dave Passmore’s side who managed to raise €70,000 themselves to run a programme that included 17 test matches in preparation.

In the end, they played just three tournament matches across their seven days in Valencia with no sense of closure currently in sight.

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