GAA has no plans for trial return of crowds but FAI may follow Leinster's lead

Leinster Rugby have made a submission to government for a “proof of concept” test event
GAA has no plans for trial return of crowds but FAI may follow Leinster's lead

14 November 2020; Out of use seats are seen prior to the Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Galway at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

The GAA has no plans to use antigen testing in an effort to allow supporters entry to next month’s Allianz League.

But the FAI is in talks with the Government about replicating Leinster’s initiative by returning fans to stadia for a League of Ireland game.

It follows Leinster Rugby’s submission to government for a “proof of concept” test event to assess the use of such testing so as to allow the safe return of spectators to matches at the RDS. The province have proposed the trial could take part in one their PRO14 Rainbow Cup games in late May.

The GAA continues to collaborate with the two other main field sports organisations in getting crowds back to games and the FAI and IRFU have already prepared a document detailings protocols to ensure the safety of fans at stadia. Part of the triumvurate’s report recommends the need for trial games ahead of full reopening of venues.

Chairperson of the combined group, Aviva Stadium director Martin Murphy, has outlined to the Department of Sport how Leinster Rugby are prepared for the experiment.

Leinster Rugby made their submission to the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media on Friday. A limited number of spectators who have returned a negative antigen test outside the RDS would be allowed entered the stadium while remaining socially distant from others. 

No more than 2,000 supporters, 11% of the normal match-day capacity, would be permitted entry. Spectators will be split up into four separate 500 person zones. 

“It’s a suggestion,” said Leinster Rugby CEO Mick Dawson. “We obviously have a couple of matches coming up in late May and it’s a possible way of getting crowds back in through the turnstiles.

“This is not only for rugby; this could apply to Gaelic, soccer, people going to the cinema, people going to concerts. I think it’s a good idea.”

Covid-19 has kept supporters outside of League of Ireland grounds, apart from a couple of hundred last summer, but the improving health outlook has increased hopes of a percentage being admitted entry. The meeting of Shamrock Rovers and St Patrick’s Athletic on May 7 could potentially see a portion of fans allowed in but more likely is the later clash of Dundalk and Rovers at Oriel Park on May 21.

Using the Leinster benchmark, that would equate to 500 fans. Once the FAI can prove games are managed safety, crowds will gradually return for all fixtures in the Premier and First Division.

An FAI spokesperson said about Leinster’s application to the health authorities: “The association is currently investigating similar initiatives to accelerate the Return to Watch for our fans and will seek to trial one of these initiatives around an upcoming League of Ireland fixture.

“We are discussing this possibility with government and other stakeholders accordingly and welcome all such trials across other sports as we work together to find ways to support an eventual return of fans to sport across Ireland.”

While the aim of 11% of capacity is realistic for League of Ireland venues, reaching the 25% minimum demanded by Uefa for Dublin to host their four European Championship finals matches is a non-runner. Eight of the 12 cities have confirmed they can comply with the standard set out for the tournament, with Munich due to be added in the coming days. Uefa will finalise the venues next Monday, with the matches pencilled in for Dublin set to be be reassigned to another country.

Meanwhile, the GAA have no intention of pursuing a similar pilot project to bring fans back in the short or medium term. Speaking earlier this year, GAA director general Tom Ryan said he hoped there may be small crowds permitted at the All-Ireland finals.

“I don’t think we will have grounds at full capacity, it’s hard to see anything anywhere near that. You remember last year there was a brief period when we were allowed to have a few hundred people at club matches. That’s hopefully within the scope of the country to deliver and for us to implement. I don’t foresee 80,000 at an All-Ireland final.”

The availability of antigen testing is expected to be available to senior inter-county teams as almost all the protocols put in place last year will remain in place ahead of the inter-county pre-season commencing next Monday.

The protocols are being finalised by the GAA’s Covid-19 advisory body.

On the insistence of the Gaelic Players Association (GPA), such baseline testing was available to county panels prior to the start of last year’s Championship. After a number of positive cases, both Wexford panels availed of it to ensure they had a clean bill of health for the Championship.

Following several positive results and determined close contacts in both of their senior camps last October and November, Sligo took the decision to concede championship games including the Connacht SFC semi-final to Galway. However, aside from the likes of Offaly’s hurlers the take-up of the testing was generally low.

  • Former Antrim hurling captain Ciarán Barr has temporarily assumed the duties of GPA chief executive Paul Flynn after he left the position on Friday. Barr is currently the GPA’s head of finance and operations.

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