Irish Life

Minister For Sport Defends Government's 'Cautious' Stance On Return Of Fans

Minister For Sport Defends Government's 'Cautious' Stance On Return Of Fans

As we enter the summer months and we see more sport returning to action around the country, supporters will be longing for the day that they can return to stadiums.

Spectators have been slowly introduced to games around Europe, with the British Government having recently allowed 8,000 supporters to attend the League Cup final at Wembley Stadium.

We will also see plenty of fans in attendance at Euro 2020, with each stadium set to allow at least 25 per cent capacity to be used. The Irish Government refused to commit to such numbers, with Dublin losing the four games it was set to host as a result.

They faced some criticism for this decision, with questions also asked about why test events with fans in attendance have not been sanctioned to take place in this country. Leinster Rugby had been hoping to host a game with 2,000 supporters this month, although the Government would not allow it to go ahead.

Speaking on Today with Claire Byrne on RTÉ radio earlier this morning, Minister for Sport Jack Chambers defended the Government's 'cautious' stance on fans returning to stadiums.

He said he is hopeful that test events will be held in early July, with many of the Government's concerns centring around the congregation of supporters before and after games.

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There is a huge amount of urgency from me, we are really ambitious and optimistic about getting fans back at games, we are all looking forward to seeing our county team or League of Ireland team.

We had a Return to Spectators plan that was formulated last October, I met with Martin Murphy, the chair of that last week and they are updating that plan now and the guidelines around that, taking into account the updated vaccination effect which has to be incorporated, that could allow for more fans in the stands than had been planned for initially.

The guidelines are there and we are updating that to incorporate antigen testing or PCR, if you take the League Cup game in the UK where they had 8,000 in a 90,000 capacity stadium.

In the previous document we had, the fan journey is very important, there will be personalised ticketing, staggered entry and exit, so when we get a return to spectators people may have to arrive at particular times, avoid congregation before and after games, they'd have to leave a little later.

In the original document we had 5% as a starter of capacity which would be 4,000-5,000 for Croke Park, then up to a two-metre distance would allow for about 15,000 in Croke Park, one metre distance would be about 30,000 in Croke Park.

They are meeting again this week, the GAA, FAI and IRFU are involved in that group and we will move that into government very quickly and plan tester events for early July, and if they work - and fans will be conscious of making that work so we can expand that capacity through the summer - this is about the phased and cautious reopening but I am confident fans will be back this summer.

It might not happen in the next two weeks but early July is not that far away. The government has agreed, early July is when we will see fans back. I accept that people will want to see them a little sooner but we want to get it right.

It remains to be seen how quickly the amount of fans in stadiums could increase following those test events, although you would hope that we may see some decent crowds in Croke Park for the All-Ireland finals in August.

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Gary Connaughton

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