New Covid-19 plan will allow fans to attend sporting events
Limit likely to be 500 with up to 5,000 possibly attending larger grounds in coming months
A fan watches from outside the ground during the Trillick vs Coalisland Tyrone SFC match. Photo: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
There will be good news for sports fans when the government announces its medium-term plan Living With Covid-19 later today. For the first time since all sports went behind closed doors on August 18th, restrictions on crowd numbers will be loosened, with up to 500 people allowed into all venues and the possibility of 10 times that in major stadiums over the coming months.
In Levels One and Two of the plan, grounds with a capacity of 5,000 will be permitted to allow crowds of 500 attend games. As the GAA heads into the teeth of county final season and the League of Ireland comes to a climax across the next seven weeks, demand will still outstrip supply. But it will be another welcome step on the road back to normality.
Sources in the GAA were last night wary of hoping for too much from the new plan, particularly at a time of still-rising case numbers. This is doubtless a holdover from the summer, when the association went from being confident that crowd sizes would be increased from 200 to 500, only to be find out at the 11th hour that no crowds whatsoever would be permitted. Nonetheless, it is expected that a return to the in-person matchday experience is imminent.
While the government was still finalising the details last night, sporting organisations around the country were anticipating rolling out ticketing measure as soon as the go-ahead is given for spectators to return. If the measures come in for this weekend, county finals in Dublin, Tipperary and Monaghan will be the first to welcome spectators back since the opening rounds of their championships back in mid-summer.
There was speculation last night however that the spectator measures might not be allowed to kick in until next Monday. If this is the case, it is expected that the Dublin hurling final between Cuala and Ballyboden St Enda’s will be pushed back by a day and staged under lights at Parnell Park on Monday night. The Dublin county board are keen to have spectators at their hurling showpiece if at all possible and after a long year, nobody will mind waiting another 24 hours.
The GAA, IRFU and FAI will continue to work with government in the coming weeks to put together a plan for crowds in the country’s major stadiums. The new measures will allow for crowds of up to 5,000 at Croke Park, the Aviva and other county venues but only subject to rigorous access and egress measures. The three sporting bodies have conducted online meetings with Minister for Sport Catherine Martin in recent weeks and while the political will is there, the finer details are still to be worked out.
All of this is, of course, subject to changes in the threat level of the virus due to rising numbers. If Dublin is considered to be at Level Three while the rest of the country is at Level Two, it is unlikely that the finer details regarding Croke Park and the Aviva will not matter - there will be no appetite for allowing 5,000 people to gather for any reason in those circumstances.
Meanwhile, in advance of the return of intercounty panels to training this week, the GAA has issued a handbook to all county setups containing strict guidelines around issues of capacity and congregation. Since no county board has been able to raise funds through income-generating crowds at their county championships, Croke Park will be relying on government funding to pay for the upkeep of intercounty panels.
As a result, training panels will not be allowed to consist of more than 32 players and on the day of games, teams will be allowed 26 players and a backroom staff of no more than 11 people. Intercounty squads will be the first GAA players who are permitted to use dressing rooms and showers since the start of the pandemic, with the authorities more cognisant than ever of the need to accommodate players who have to travel.
Nonetheless, counties will not be allowed to have overnight camps for the duration of Championship 2020, nor can they meet up any more than three hours before a game unless it takes place more than 130 miles away. All county panels can train no more than three times a week.
Discussions are also taking place with the GPA, with cuts to the GAA’s contribution to the players’ body accepted as a certainty. After the dire warnings that were issued over the weekend about the catastrophic financial hit the association is facing, it is expected that the mileage rate for players will be cut, as will the nutrition subvention.