Clarity sought over plan to limit crowds to 5,000

Sporting bodies are waiting for clarification on the exact details of the government’s plan not to licence crowds in excess of 5,000 until the end of August.
Clarity sought over plan to limit crowds to 5,000
Looking on from afar: GAA fans won’t be able to flock to stadiums throughout the country in their droves this summer but the decision to ban crowds in excess of 5,000 people until late August could benefit the club championship. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

- Additional reporting from Simon Lewis and Tommy Lyons

Sporting bodies are waiting for clarification on the exact details of the government’s plan not to licence crowds in excess of 5,000 until the end of August.

When contacted by the Irish Examiner last night a number of officials from various organisations were unclear if this announcement means that events with a crowd far less than that figure can be allowed to go ahead throughout the summer.

If so it would suggest that club GAA matches along with some League of Ireland games could, in theory, be allowed to resume while hopes are increasing that golf can return at a social level at least.

Elsewhere on this page interim FAI CEO Gary Owens noted that “the devil is in the detail.”

He said: “We really need to understand what they (the Government) mean by 5,000 in terms of mass gatherings and whether that applies in stadiums and what are the criteria we would have to comply with.”

And his view was shared by a number of other national governing bodies who are waiting on further information in the days ahead.

The announcement by the Government has certainly drawn a line through the original start dates for the provincial and All-Ireland Championships.

However GAA sources remain adamant playing behind closed door Championship games is off the table and are hopeful the 2020 competitions can be started when restrictions ease — whenever that may be.

Laois manager Mike Quirke, said last night: “I would like to see a bit more clarity on this statement but taking it at face value it would suggest that it is a positive move and that the Government are considering restarting events of less than 5,000 in in attendance.

"If that is the case could we be looking at a return to playing county championship games in the middle of summer — something that so many people have been calling for for years?

“A return to club championship games would be great not just for the players but for the communities in general after everything they have endured over the last number of weeks.”

Quirke also believes that Croke Park bosses are working on contingency plans for an autumn Championship.

“I would think that the GAA are looking at starting the championships back in September in October. But a lot will depend on how the virus is being contained and in a way playing these matches with smaller numbers may be the first step in easing back towards bigger and bigger crowds.”

Quirke is remaining in regular contact with his players via technology since GAA chiefs ordered a ban on training sessions last month.

He said: “It is a challenge, we are just doing different things online. We have done yoga, cookery, things you would not have even considered in normal times.

"In a way it was good that lads got a break from playing football but now they are only bursting to get back out training and playing. Maybe this is the first step on that road back.”

An LGFA spokesperson said they are adopting a wait and see policy in relation to the restarting of their championships in the wake of the latest government announcement: “We continue to monitor the ongoing situation in relation to Covid-19, and we are adhering to Government advice.

"The health and wellbeing of all of our members is our primary and ongoing concern.

“If and when there are further announcements to make in terms of LGFA activities, we will communicate them through official channels.

"All decisions in relation to forthcoming fixtures, once it is safe to resume LGFA activities, will be discussed at LGFA management level, and contingency plans are in place.”

The Government announcement will also impact hugely on Irish horse racing and in particular the Galway Races, the Irish Derby, and the Classics.

The seven-day meeting in Galway was due to start on July 27 but a statement on behalf of the Galway Race Committee said: “In light of the evolving situation regarding Covid-19, for public health and safety reasons Galway Race Committee has reached the difficult but unavoidable decision that the 2020 Galway Races Summer Festival, due to be held from Monday July 27 to Sunday August 2, will not be able to take place as an event open to the general public this year.

“We know this will be a huge disappointment for all our racegoers that attend year on year. It may prove possible to run the Galway Races behind closed doors, dependent on government policy and the approval of Horse Racing Ireland and Irish Horse Racing Regulatory Board.

"This would be for the benefit of the racing industry, our valued partners, and our television audiences at home and internationally.

“We are currently planning for this scenario and we will update you on progress as and when we can.”

Whatever guise the Galway races takes this summer it seems almost certain that the mixed National Hunt and Flat days will not now take place. There will have to be days allocated solely to each discipline.

Galway Racecourse general manager Michael Moloney added: “We have been liaising with Horse Racing Ireland closely over the past few weeks but obviously this is fresh information. We have always said that if there were restrictions put in place we would certainly comply with them.

"There is much more we need to iron out now that we have this new information, and we will begin doing so immediately.”

The Government’s announcement on the licensing of mass gatherings of more than 5,000 people is not likely to have any impact on amateur championships staged in Ireland this summer, a spokesman for the Golfing Union of Ireland told the Irish Examiner.

The GUI has indefinitely postponed all its championships and inter-club competitions until the end of May, while all golf clubs on the island of Ireland have been closed following the ramping up of restrictions on movement, social distancing and gatherings of more than four people outside of the same household.

It will already have to find new dates for blue riband events such as the AIG Irish Amateur Close Championship, which had been set for Rosapenna from May 9-13 and both the East Of Ireland and West of Ireland Championships, postponed in May and April respectively.

While not expecting any swift resumption of competitive amateur golf before June at the earliest, golf clubs and the game’s governing bodies will be hoping social golf can begin again before then if courses are given the green light when restrictions begin to be relaxed.

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