GAA Football

NI executive update may not come in time for weekend games

Up to 200 supporters can attend games this weekend in the south, but none will be permitted in the north unless the NI executive makes a swift update to its legislation.

THIS weekend’s club games in the north will be played behind closed doors unless the NI executive issues updated guidance that applies from Friday or before.

The GAA is awaiting updated advice from the executive in relation to games in the six counties, which are subject to different regulations from those in the south.

A significant blow was dealt last night with news breaking last night that the limit on crowds in the 26 counties will not now rise to 500 on Monday, as had been planned.

At present, 200 spectators can attend a game in the south, and that had been due to increase from July 20.

However, a report by RTÉ suggested that no such change would take place now until August at the earliest.

With the NI executive running slightly behind in terms of the re-opening of society, there is currently a complete ban on all spectators attending gams in the north until further notice.

The executive’s usual Monday meeting did not take place because of the Bank Holiday this week, but they met yesterday.

Many of the major announcements in recent weeks have been made on Thursdays, so there may be an update on the guidance later today.

The GAA, IFA and Ulster Rugby met with the executive on July 1 and were asked to submit plans for dealing with crowds at games.

They also took part in a webinar with the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA), who are health and safety experts specialising in sports stadia in the UK.

Proposals are currently being developed but have not yet been released.

The GAA expects that the NI executive will make an announcement before Friday’s resumption of competitive games, but has had no definitive indication either way.

And even if an announcement is made, there is a possibility that any lifting of a ban on spectators attending may not be applied in time for this weekend’s games.

Games in the north are already in a grey area, with the government advice having limited numbers for outdoor gatherings to 30. The GAA received dispensation to extend that figure, allowing for coaching staff, match officials and substitutes for both teams.

The NI executive has fallen into line with the south with regards most of the legislation so far during the covid crisis.

There remains a possibility that they will make a decision that grounds should remain closed to spectators, although that seems unlikely.

They may also give licence to the three major sporting bodies to implement their own risk assessment on how many spectators will be allowed to attend, based on where games will be held.

It is more likely that a limit will be placed on numbers, and the GAA will now have to alter its planning on the whole.

County boards and clubs would have hoped to allow 500 spectators into club championship games over the next six weeks, but that will now be capped at a very modest 200, meaning a scramble for tickets will almost inevitably ensue.

County boards are taking charge of the distribution of tickets, with many partnering up with online ticket apps, although whether the technology or manpower to implement such tools will be available at club grounds remains a question mark.

The GAA earlier this week issued updated guidance on what members should do in the event of a positive test or a suspected case of covid-19.

Anyone with symptoms is advised to visit their GP and in the event of a positive test, the public health authorities will determine through contact tracing “who are close or casual contacts”.

No clear definition has yet been given as to whether team-mates or opponents will be treated as a close contact or a casual contact, both of which have very different protocols.

If the public health bodies define someone as a ‘close contact’, the GAA stipulates that they must cease involvement immediately and not return until they have been given medical clearance.

However a ‘casual contact’ is only subject to a ‘passive follow-up’ for 14 days and is free to continue GAA activity as long as they are symptom free.

Atticall GAC in Down suspended training earlier this week after a positive test was recorded by a player, while a second club in Ulster was also awaiting results on a suspected case.

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GAA Football