Sports organisations collaborate on plans for a return of crowds

GAA joined with FAI and IRFU to submit plan to Government for phased return

‘Guidelines for Reopening Sports Grounds,’ is a detailed document, which lays out the protocols that would be observed if spectators were allowed to return to stadiums. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

‘Guidelines for Reopening Sports Grounds,’ is a detailed document, which lays out the protocols that would be observed if spectators were allowed to return to stadiums. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

 

The GAA along with other sports organisations are hoping for a response from Government to their joint submission on getting crowds back to matches even though they’re not expecting any immediate easing of restrictions.

With Gaelic games not even returned to training yet, it may appear a long-term concern but with postponed Euro 2020 matches scheduled for Dublin and Uefa keen for attendances, the issue is more pressing than immediately obvious.

Peter McKenna, Croke Park stadium director, says that it made sense for the GAA, rugby and soccer to collaborate, which they did in compiling a report late last year.

“We were totally conscious that we wanted one message coming out because people go to rugby matches, GAA matches et cetera and we didn’t want a set of rules for one and not the other. We wanted a common message.”

Martin Murphy, McKenna’s counterpart in the Aviva, chaired the joint body, which drew up a plan with a view to having it ready for implementation when Level 2 was declared.

“In Living with Covid Level 2,” he says, “the Government said that it would engage with the sports organisations for our input. We’d established a combined working party with representatives from GAA, IRFU and FAI. We had input from the Department as well as consultants. We submitted in October, based on Government guidelines that are there at the moment.”

In retrospect any notion back then that the exit from Covid would be linear and predictable foundered on the pre-Christmas Level 5 lockdown and its immediate reimposition after the third wave of coronavirus hit so heavily from late December.

Murphy believes, however, that it made sense to progress the matter even before any obvious likelihood of a ‘return to spectating’.

“We understand that the Department of Sport has referred it to the Department of Health and we’re just waiting for some interaction on it. That’s where it is at the moment.

“What we’d like is to be able to engage with Sport and Health so that when things do improve and we find ourselves in a position to allow people back into venues, we have all our ducks in a row and are ready to roll out our plans.

“It’s pretty comprehensive. A lot of work went into it but Covid changes from day to day and week to week. When we submitted it, the mood was a bit more optimistic than the current climate although vaccines are another factor.”

Trial events

‘Guidelines for Reopening Sports Grounds,’ is a detailed document, which lays out the protocols that would be observed if spectators were allowed to return, including that the relevant “stadium or sports ground will become a ‘controlled environment’ as defined by Nphet.

“The phases of the return to spectating roadmap envisage a number of Trial Events: 1) initially at circa 5% of ground capacity 2) building to events at full 2m Social Distancing 3) with the objective of reaching 1m Social Distancing (approximately 35% capacity) at Covid-19 Levels 1 and 2 when it is appropriate to do so.”

It had been hoped that a number of trial events – the All-Ireland finals would have been ideal – could have been designated at the end of last year but that quickly became impractical.

In relation to the four scheduled Euro 2020 matches, Murphy is hopeful that circumstances will permit the group fixtures and round of 16 match to go ahead.

“The bottom line is that it all depends on the Covid situation in the country and nobody’s going to ignore that aspect of it so it’s out of our control but when the circumstances are right and the environment, we’ll be able to run it. At this moment in time, it’s early and the decision by Uefa isn’t being made until next month.”

Both Murphy and McKenna are conscious of the joint-Britain and Ireland Fifa World Cup bid but it’s at such an early stage that not much additional information is available.

Croke Park would be expected to be one of the venues proposed for use, as Fifa requirements are for grounds with a minimum seated capacity of 50,000.

“We would be supportive,” according to McKenna, “because things like this are in the national interest and anything that benefits the Irish economy is good for everyone.”

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