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Tens of thousands of sports fans set to be allowed back in stadiums


Sports Minister Jack Chambers. Picture by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Sports Minister Jack Chambers. Picture by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Sports Minister Jack Chambers. Picture by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

The number of spectators allowed at sports fixtures is to rise from next month, possibly as high as 50pc of the capacity of stadiums, following a series of successful pilot events.

Despite controversy over the 40,000 at Croke Park for the All-Ireland Hurling Final a week ago, the Government plans to drop current rules allowing 200 to 500 spectators with exceptions for designated pilot events.

Instead, it will move to a ‘percentage of capacity’ model that will gradually increase provided the Covid-19 situation remains stable.

Sports Minister Jack Chambers is finalising plans this weekend that will go before the Cabinet Covid Committee tomorrow and to the full Cabinet for approval on Tuesday.

“The current series of pilot test events for outdoor sports has developed incrementally and carefully over the past couple of months from having a few hundred spectators to 40,000,” he said.

“The return of fans has provided a much-needed return to normality for many who have been unable to take part in an important part of their daily lives.

“Ultimately, the continued increase in fan attendances will provide a much-needed boost to sporting organisations as attendances reach financial viability and allow sporting organisations who have experienced severe financial hardship to supplement other revenue streams.

“Generally, each phase has been successful with high levels of compliance and no cases of transmission associated with events. However, we have seen issues around compliance at recent events which need to be addressed.

"Sporting organisations played a key role in setting the terms under which these events take place and they need to show they can deliver events in line with those guidelines.”

Under the changes the initial capacity percentage will be more than 25pc and possibly as high as 50pc, which would allow for 40,000 fans at Croke Park and around 25,000 at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium.

There have been no Covid-19 outbreaks linked to pilot sports events attended by nearly 400,000 people in recent months.

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The latest data covers the period up to last Wednesday and so does not yet take account of the full impact of the large crowds that gathered for last Sunday’s hurling final in Dublin.

The lifting of the limits on outdoor gatherings — which are set at 200 or 500 if the venue has a capacity over 5,000 — is also likely to pave the way for increased attendance at outdoor arts and entertainment events.

Micheál Martin, Leo Varadkar and Arts Minister Catherine Martin are to hold a meeting with representatives from the live events sector tomorrow.

This is before they finalise the next steps for reopening a sector that has been largely closed since March 2020 except for a series of pilots.

It is likely that the Covid vaccine pass will be used for theatres and other cultural venues initially, with some events seated only or with reduced capacity to avoid crowding.

The legislation underpinning the pass, that is currently only for indoor dining, will expire on October 9 and the Government does not expect to renew it.

A Government source said Ms Martin pushed for the reopening of the sector to happen in early September as opposed to “waiting for nirvana in October” when all remaining public health restrictions are likely to be lifted.

Efforts continue this weekend to see if the Electric Picnic music festival can go ahead after organiser MCD was refused a licence by Laois County Council on public health grounds.

To date, 149 pilot events run by the GAA, FAI, IRFU, Athletics Ireland, Cricket Ireland and the European Golf Tour have been approved by the Department of Sport up to the end of August.

Total attendance approved across all events to the end of August is 519,360. Given some events did not reach capacity, the Working Group on the Return to Spectators has estimated 380,000 fans attended pilot events to date.

There had not been any reported cases of Covid transmission as of last Wednesday.


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