Mass gatherings banned until September: but what does that actually mean for sport?

News that the ban on mass gatherings is to be extended through to August has filtered out this afternoon.
Mass gatherings banned until September: but what does that actually mean for sport?

News that the ban on mass gatherings is to be extended through to August filtered out on Tuesday afternoon and prompted further fears for the prospects of sport resuming any time soon.

But how much actually changes with this latest development?

Reports any gathering of 5,000-plus people will not be awarded a licence through to the start of September would appear to offer scope for most sports here to run some form of competition and still comply with the restrictions.

The prospect of events being held behind closed doors was already one that was gaining a reluctant but realistic currency at various levels in recent days and weeks, although even that scenario is rife with complications over health and safety considerations.

Among them: how can you social distance in a contact sport?

There is an understanding that there will be no short-term return to stadiums with packed houses, whether that be for All-Ireland hurling or football games, rearranged provincial and test rugby fixtures, or any other form of sporting, cultural, or artistic mass gathering.

So, where do our sports stand right now?

Gaelic games:

The GAA issued a statement in the last week stating that it would be July at the earliest before the All-Ireland championships, due to begin on May 9, could be started. The GAA has stated its intention to accommodate both club and county games and that it is the intention to also finish the Allianz Leagues.

The Ladies Gaelic Football Association cancelled their National Leagues with immediate effect at the end of March and announced that they would monitor the ongoing situation with a view to their planned All-Ireland Championship. The Camogie Association declared as recently as last Friday that they planned to complete all competitions as planned this year.

Soccer:

Airtricity League clubs had planned on returning to train before the end of May, and to the field of play at the back end of June. The Republic of Ireland's European Championship play-off semi-final against Slovakia, scheduled for March 26, was put back to the start of June before being postponed “indefinitely”.

The FAI announced this evening (Tuesday), after a conference call meeting with Uefa, that the Slovakia fixture is now likely to be played in October with a number of Nations League games possibly to predate it in September.

The Republic of Ireland women's qualifying campaign for Euro 2021 has also been left in limbo while three games to go and Vera Pauw's side at the top of their group, while the Women's National League had tentative plans for a resumption some time in the last week of June.

Rugby:

The IRFU brought the curtain down on all remaining domestic rugby competitions on March 20. The new domestic season is not due to begin again until September. The Guinness PRO14 and Heineken Champions Cup have been postponed indefinitely by organisers and Ireland have still to face Italy and France in the delayed 2020 Six Nations.

The planned summer tour to Australia is all but dead in the water and it remains to be seen if the southern hemisphere nations can make it to Europe in November. An extended Six Nations is one of the fallback options being discussed for the latter end of the year but the scramble to fit league, European, and international games in will be an almost impossible task.

Golf:

The Irish Open, set for Mount Juliet at the end of May, was officially postponed at the start of the month. Paul McGinley stated soon after that playing the event later in the year without spectators was a distinct possibility. Golf clubs around the country remain closed.

The US PGA Tour has targeted a June 11 restart behind closed doors at the Charles Schwab Challenge in Texas. The European Tour has taken a more cautious approach, looking to the British Masters at the very end of July as a possible launch pad.

Cricket:

The Irish men's and women's sides both had tours, to Zimbabwe and Thailand respectively, cancelled this month. The men's series against Bangladesh in May has also fallen victim to events. Their series against New Zealand and Pakistan in June and July are now under the microscope, as is the women's World Cup qualifiers during the summer. The hope is that the men's T20 World Cup in Australia, starting in October, can at least survive intact.

Horse racing:

The remainder of the National Hunt season, including the Fairyhouse and Punchestown festivals, was cancelled at the start of April. Horse Racing Ireland declared that racing would resume with a month-long flat season, most likely behind closed doors in similar fashion to the ten meets run prior to the tighter restrictions on movement were introduced last month. Fairyhouse and Punchestown will not be revived this year but there is an intention to run the Irish Grand National at some point in the autumn.

Equestrian:

The Dublin Horse Show was this week cancelled for the first time in 80 years due to the pandemic. Slated for July 15-19, the sheer level of planning and preparation involved, added to the strong international dimension, forced a decision at this juncture.

Cycling:

The Rás Tailteann was due to return to the Irish sporting calendar after its absence in 2019 but the June 10-14 event was put on hold at the start of April. Event organisers said at the time that they would monitor the ongoing situation and consider potential dates later in the year.

Olympic sports:

With the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics both pushed back by 12 months, Irish athletes have already had their calendars altered wholesale for the remainder of 2020 and beyond. International federations and national governing bodies here are still none the wiser as to when most of their individual programmes, including qualifying events for Tokyo, can resume.

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