Lay-offs and 'scaling back professional game' among warnings from cash-strapped sporting bodies

Three organisations working on roadmap to present to Government amid losses and fears  some clubs may cease
Lay-offs and 'scaling back professional game' among warnings from cash-strapped sporting bodies

GAA president John Horan, left, and drector General Tom Ryan arriving at Dáil Éireann. Mr Horan said a small return of match attendance wasn't going to solve the financial issues and so government funding was essential.Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The FAI, IRFU and GAA are to bring proposals on allowing fans back into grounds in larger numbers amid spiralling financial losses and fears over the continued existence of some clubs and competitions.

With an increased focus on what the return of spectators would look like, all three organisations are working on a roadmap they will present to Government. The Irish Rugby Football Union admitted that a two-metre social distancing element would make little or no difference to the spiralling financial cost of the Covid-19 crisis, whereas a one-metre distancing requirement would help.

The IRFU said its finances hinged on people attending international matches and big provincial games and using the Aviva Stadium as an example, the IRFU's chief executive Philip Browne said at a two-metre distance just 7,000 people could attend  —  a level which he said would make "absolutely no difference" to its perilous financial situation. He said a one-metre social distancing requirement would mean 18,000 people in the ground - adding: "at least it will help".

The three sporting bodies addressed the Special Oireachtas Committee on Covid-19 on Friday and warned of the dire financial implications of supporters remaining locked out of matches, with the IRFU warning of an existential threat to rugby on this island the FAI saying the League of Ireland may not survive.

For its part, the GAA said it would also have a huge €50m financial hole in its budget as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and that this would impact hurling and football at all levels, especially clubs.

Responding to questions from Committee members, GAA president John Horan said a small return of match attendance wasn't going to solve the financial issues and so government funding was essential.

IRFU chief executive Philip Browne said the club game here had "set the pace" in comparison with counterparts in the UK but said a roadmap, currently being worked on by all three organisations, was "absolutely paramount". Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins
IRFU chief executive Philip Browne said the club game here had "set the pace" in comparison with counterparts in the UK but said a roadmap, currently being worked on by all three organisations, was "absolutely paramount". Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

GAA Director General Tom Ryan said the GAA was not the arbiter when it came to public health guidance and would adhere to any guidelines in place.

"It's not just about the number of people we can accommodate on a stand or on a terrace," he said, referring to seating being appropriately spaced out, changes to access and exits from grounds and dispensing with catering and retail elements in stadiums.

"The important thing to remember is we do have a track record of running games and running events over a normal year that would cater for millions of people at our games," he said. "All we are talking about now is perhaps changing the parameters that apply to those games."

He said there was no doubt the GAA could adhere to those parameters.

Tom Ryan said when it came to GAA County boards, typically they would be expected to return a collective surplus of around €4m, whereas this year it would be a deficit of €12m.

IRFU chief executive Philip Browne said the club game here had "set the pace" in comparison with counterparts in the UK but said a roadmap, currently being worked on by all three organisations, was "absolutely paramount".

He said all four rugby provinces were suffering, but Leinster had some cash reserves. He said the IRFU had to step in and assist all four, "but two, Ulster and Munster, are probably in greater difficulty than Connacht and Leinster."

He said the Association needed "a clear line of sight" by December in relation to the likelihood of fans returning to matches in greater numbers, otherwise "unpalatable" contingencies would be needed.

"We are going to have to reduce those activities, that inevitably means redundancies, layoffs, scaling back programmes, maybe scaling back in the professional game as well."

He said: "We would be comfortable with one-metre social distancing" and said a roadmap for allowing greater numbers of fans to attend matches was key, withj any implementation most likely on a pilot basis at first as it might not be something that could be done in a "big bang".

He said the 18,000 figure "eases the situation for us, particularly for the provinces, which are very reliant on gate income". He said ultimately having lower numbers of fans in grounds cost the IRFU money.

"We have to find those balances," he said, adding: "If we have to invest in order to get to that 18,000 or one-metre social distancing then that is what we have to do."

Gary Owens Interim Chief Exectuive FAI
Gary Owens Interim Chief Exectuive FAI

Gary Owens, the interim CEO of the Football Association of Ireland, said he feared for the very existence of the League of Ireland next year.

"I think it is going to be difficult, the only income League of Ireland clubs get is through fans," he said.

Mr Owens said the FAI was working with the clubs on three possible scenarios - one in which no fans attended, one in which fans were back, and another "somewhere between the two".

"I must say I am worried about the income of League of Ireland clubs. We are going to have to have contingency plans for some clubs.

He said those that qualify for Europe would be in a better position than those who do not, putting a figure of €3.5m to support clubs in the league.

Mr Owens also said he was optimistic that Dublin's role as one of the venues for Euro 2020, delayed until next year, was still on track.

"As things stand today we are still expecting to hold the Euros here next year with fans attending," he said, adding that the upcoming Supercup game between Bayern and Seville, at which 20,000 fans are due to attend, was an important step.

Mr Owen, referring to Thursday night's clash between Shamrock Rovers and AC Milan, said the revenue to the home team of playing the game behind closed doors was around 90% lower than would have normally been the case. The IRFU delegation said the upcoming Leinster v Saracens match would mean a likely loss of €2m.

GAA Director General Tom Ryan told the Special Committee on Covid-19 response that the financial implications were "stark", referring to a €50m hole in its finances and further losses of €20m likely into 2021.

GAA President John Horan advocated an all Ireland approach, referring to crowd limits set by the Ulster council of 400 at matches, which he said had proved successful.

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