Crowd limits to remain at 200 as Government stalls move to phase four

GAA's Horan: ‘We don’t want our members becoming too despondent or disheartened’

Spectators watch the Mayo SFC game between Breaffy and Westport from inside and outside the ground. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Spectators watch the Mayo SFC game between Breaffy and Westport from inside and outside the ground. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

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Matchday limits of just 200 people, including players and officials, will remain in place until the end of August at least after the Government decided against any easing of the current restrictions around Covid-19.

Despite considerable hope and expectation of an increase in outdoor gatherings to 500, Taoiseach Micheál Martin made the announcement at Dublin Castle on Tuesday evening, admitting it would come as “a bitter disappointment to many people”.

The limit of 200 people was set to more than double to 500 on August 10th with the commencement of phase four, originally scheduled for July 13th, before the decision to pause left that upper limit as it was. It will next be reviewed in three weeks, beginning from August 10th, which means it will be August 31st before any potential increase, or the first weekend in September before that applies in the wider sporting context

A third successful weekend of resumed club match activity had left the GAA cautiously optimistic about some easing of the Government restrictions on attendances, but that must now await until next month. GAA president John Horan urged members to be patient, admitting the situation “isn’t going as fast as we want” but that the playing of games would at least continue.

“We don’t want our members becoming too despondent or disheartened,” Horan told GAA.ie. “What’s important is that we have the games back and we keep them back and we continue to be vigilant and show leadership. This isn’t going as fast as we want but we’re still moving in the right direction. We made a strong case to both the Government and NPHET around the use of our bigger stadia for crowds of up to 400 excluding the players.

“But, obviously, with the numbers turning in the last few days they felt they couldn’t accede to our request and we have to respect that decision. We’re in our sixth week back with activity and this has shown our procedures and education have worked well. The caution within the GAA community has highlighted outbreaks and led to areas taking precautions. When it hits a club everyone gets into high alert and that helps to stop the spread in that community.”

The FAI were similarly eager for the increase for the remaining matches of the League of Ireland, while the limit of 200 will also apply for the resumption of the rugby season, set to begin on Friday, August 21st with round 14 of the Pro14. On the Saturday, August 22nd, Leinster are set to host Munster at the Aviva stadium (7.35pm), while the next day Connacht will play Ulster at the same venue, where in all cases only 200 people will be permitted to attend.

For the GAA this means at least four more weekends of club matches where the numbers are limited to 200, including players, management and backroom members, even when some matches are being played at county grounds such as the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick, and Semple Stadium in Thurles.

“It’s important we treat people with respect and support if they are diagnosed with Covid-19, there should be no stigma whatsoever attached to this illness,” added Horan. “We all have to keep doing the right things and hopefully things will turn for us in three weeks time and we’ll then be able to get more people to attend games. But the most important thing is that we don’t lose what we’ve gotten back so far. The playing of games and people being able to go training.”

The decision comes after the news over the weekend that two Laois GAA clubs, Park-Ratheniska and Timahoe, have been forced to shut down all activities, until further notice, after an adult player tested positive for Covid-19.

The GAA are also slightly conflicted by the fact 400 can attend games in the North, with only 200 in the South. Following the original decision to stick with crowds of 200, Horan went on Morning Ireland and “openly called on” on the Government to review the attendance restrictions governing Gaelic games, just two days after the announcement that phase four of the national exit from lockdown had been deferred, describing it as “a hammer blow to the organisation”.

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