GAA warns failure to wear masks undermines bid to secure larger crowds

Hopes of 40,000 All-Ireland final crowd in doubt due to poor compliance at Croke Park

The GAA has warned that failure to wear masks is undermining attempts to secure higher attendances from Government as the championship enters its crucial phase.

Croke Park stadium director Peter McKenna has told The Irish Times that compliance among attendances recently has been as low as 30 per cent. At Sunday’s Connacht final in the stadium there were repeated public announcements asking spectators to wear masks.

He is on the record as hoping for crowds of about 40,000 for the All-Ireland finals and 25,000 for the semi-finals but the latter are starting the weekend after this and there is concern that the current level of 18,000 will not be revised upwards.

“At the start of the season when we had very small crowds, people were being face mask-compliant but as we have got more crowds in, people are relaxing. Some of that is due to the weather. It’s not the most comfortable to be wearing a mask when you’re sitting in the sun but it is a key requirement from the Department [of Sport] that we show complete compliance.”


Safe return

McKenna is a member of the working group to ensure a safe return to spectating, set up between the FAI, GAA and IRFU. He said that the problem is not confined to Gaelic games.

“It’s not just us. The same is happening at soccer matches. But we will get better numbers in Croke Park if we can get compliance with face mask wearing.

“If we’re looking to persuade the authorities that we are operating to the best level of public health compliance, face masking is an easy win if we can persuade people to do it.

“What we’ve found with the department is that if we show cause and put the effort in – and there have been no recorded cases passed on at any sports event – they will respond positively. The corollary is that if we don’t we could be struggling. It’s in our hands to demonstrate that if this is what it takes to go to the All-Ireland final, let’s go with it.”

He says that although infection rates are low to non-existent in outdoor arenas, the precautions are necessary, as to secure permission for greater numbers it will be necessary to reduce distancing and with the Delta variant so much more transmissible even outdoors, sports organisations have to be able to persuade the department that further relaxation of numbers is safe.

“They’re the guidelines we’ve been given,” according to McKenna. “I think it’s critical to it going ahead. If we’re going to raise the current 18,000 to near 40,000 for the All-Irelands, that’s effectively doubling the crowd. That means the risk of infection has to be managed very tightly, particularly as the variant is a lot more transmissible.

“We can get 40,000 instead of 18,000. That’s a long way short of 80,000 but compared to last year? That’s the challenge.”

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times