As professional sport gears up for a resumption of action behind closed doors this summer, Aviva Stadium director Martin Murphy provides a picture of the steps needed to be taken to make the home of Irish football and rugby biosecure.
Speaking to theon the weekend the Aviva Stadium marked the 10th anniversary of its opening on Dublin’s Lansdowne Road, Murphy outlined how a matchday will probably look as protocols take shape for the safe return of team sports in the time of Covid-19, guided in part by the experience of stadium officials in Germany’s Bundesliga, which restarted at the weekend, and at Turin’s Allianz Stadium, which staged Juventus’s Serie A clash with Internazionale in front of empty seats two months ago.
“Juventus played behind closed doors this year and we’ve been in touch with them to see how that went,” Murphy said. “They’re planning for a resumption over there and there’s a model there and everyone will be watching what happens there in Serie A and the Bundesliga.
In Germany last week, teams stayed in quarantined hotels away from their families with anyone showing symptoms having to self-isolate for 14 days before becoming available for selection. Nor will breaches of that quarantine be tolerated as FC Augsburg manager Heiko Herrlich found out. He was forced to miss his team’s game with Wolfsburg because he had left the designated hotel in order to buy toothpaste.
“That’s the key to it. Effectively everything inside what I call the cocoon, which is the dressing rooms and anywhere that the players, management and match officials would come into contact with, it all has to be sterile and sanitised.
“That has to happen the day before (the event) and then it’s sealed, no access to that until the teams come in.
“All of the match equipment, the footballs, the posts, the subs’ benches, the pitch itself, everything that players and match officials could potentially come into contact with is cleaned and sanitised. There also have to be arrangements in place in case somebody on site develops symptoms, we have to have an isolation place for them, while having contact details for everybody so we can contact them straight away.
“We have to control access and egress so that nobody who’s not supposed to be here can access the venue. Any pre-match preparations have to be done the day before and non-essential staff would not be present on matchday. So it’s very tightly controlled.”
“Everything will be controlled in and out through one access point. There is no opportunity for fans or anything like that. There would be no point in anyone coming to the stadium other than essential personnel.
“World Rugby say that is 167 people and I know that the Guinness PRO14 had a figure of 168 and we’ve looked at what the Bundesliga are proposing and that’s a lot more (332) but we’re looking at around 168 and I think it could even be pared back a bit from that.
“That includes everybody from broadcasters, stadium staff, security, both teams and match officials. There’s no excess, nobody that’s non-essential in that 167 number.
“Temperature testing has been proposed and we will be watching the guidance from the HSE and following whatever best practice is, but we are looking at temperature testing for those people coming into the stadium to work at those matches. There’s also self-declaration forms, people giving their contact details and answering a number of (Covid-related) questions in order to minimise the risk.”
“We will look after anyone that’s not on the playing side. The players come in and go straight into their cocoon without any interaction with others.
“Some of the protocols that I have seen have said players come in and there is social distancing in the changing rooms. We can do that and they will come in for a minimum of time and then spend most of their time here out on the pitch. They would come togged, for example, and the shower facilities may be different. They may have to put their tracksuits on and go back to where they came from and have their showers there, individually. That’s the sort of detail of what’s involved with these protocols.”
Getting the teams out as quickly and safely as possible is another priority.
“There will be no catering on site. They will bring their food with them, prepared by their own people and they would basically grab and go on the way out of the changing rooms, straight onto the bus or individual transport, dependent on what the protocols are with regard to players arriving and departing.
“Both teams would have to meet certain criteria to stay safe but there would be no social interaction.
“It is a challenge but professional teams have more control over their structures and that’s why the professional teams will start back first.”