Committee hears significant numbers of supporters needed back at matches

GAA, IRFU and FAI prepare joint roadmap for safe return of spectators to stadiums

Senior officials from the GAA, IRFU and the FAI have warned the Oireachtas committee on Covid-19 response of the financial hardships their associations face should sports matches continue to be played behind closed doors long-term in Ireland.

 

The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), Football Association of Ireland (FAI) and Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) will put a joint proposal to Government for the safe return of spectators to stadiums, as they warn of the threat to the three organisations’ future.

The three sporting bodies told the Oireachtas Covid-19 committee it was of paramount importance to get significant numbers of supporters back at matches.

As they work on a joint roadmap to put to Government, they expressed confidence they could adhere to all safety protocols.

But IRFU chief executive Philip Browne said having 5,000 spectators in the Aviva Stadium would actually be a cost to the organisation.

A 2m social distancing between spectators would allow 7,000 into the stadium but would make “absolutely no difference” to the organisation’s stark financial situation, while a 1m separation would allow for 18,000 spectators, “not ideal but manageable”.

‘Catastrophic’ losses

The IRFU faces “catastrophic” losses of more than €30 million this year. Mr Browne said the men’s national team generated 80 per cent of revenue. They were unable to invoice for 10-year tickets and will continue to “burn” at least €5 million a month on professional salaries. The IRFU will be forced to commence borrowing in January and “the very existence of rugby in Ireland will inevitably be under significant threat at some point in 2021”.

Mr Browne said Leinster play Saracens on Saturday and a gate return of about €2 million would normally be expected, but there would be no income without spectators.

He also said club games at amateur level had successfully restarted while clubs in Britain are not expected to restart them until next year.

Interim FAI chief executive Gary Owens said League of Ireland clubs were entering “really dangerous territory” and they could not survive without spectators.

The FAI appreciated the support from the Government in keeping the association solvent, “but this time we are not responsible and we are not alone”. Mr Owens said the association was seeking €19.2 million in support.

He told Labour TD Duncan Smith that Shamrock Rovers took a “significant hit” with the lack of spectators at the match against AC Milan in Tallaght Stadium on Thursday night. “Income from streaming was disappointingly low,” he added.

Protocols

GAA director general Tom Ryan said that 85 per cent of income is reinvested in the community game. In 2020 alone they face losses of €50 million and €20 million next year.

GAA president John Horan said he was confident they had protocols in place to continue to keep members and facilities safe. Any cases within GAA clubs “have come from outside factors rather than from within”.

He said the GAA received an average of 91,000 replies daily to health questionnaires on the app members use and this maintains public safety awareness.

Mr Ryan told Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster they had not come across many instances of people congregating after matches.

Some clubs acted immediately and with caution by closing everything where there was a case. “The reservations and restrictions were borne out of fear of those things arising rather than reported cases and we didn’t come across many cases.” He said their mantra of “turn up, play the game and go home” worked.

Sports Ireland chief executive John Treacy said the €70 million in Government funding to assist sports organisations included €40 million for the three main field sports and €10 million for national governing bodies.

Research they had done showed significant increases in sporting activity, with three million people now regularly walking.

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