GAA Football

Ulster GAA chief welcomes Stormont decision on spectators and remains optimistic on inter-county season

Fans had to watch the Armagh Division 1A between Maghery and Crossmaglen Rangers at Maghery from outside the ground in July. Pic Philip Walsh..
Andy Watters

ULSTER GAA secretary Brian McAvoy welcomed Stormont's decision not to follow the Republic's government lead by banning supporters from sporting events and says he remains optimistic that the All-Ireland Championships will be played this year.

NI Executive Health Minister Robin Swann did announce restrictions on indoor and outdoor gatherings yesterday but he stopped short of changing existing guidelines on allowing a limited numbers of spectators at club games.

McAvoy, who feels that sport has been “unfairly treated” in the Republic, welcomed the Executive decision to retain the status quo.

“We've explained our position to the Executive and they feel, certainly for now, that attendances have been regulated well and they are happy for sport to continue as it was,” he said.

Stormont's stance on allowing spectators into games means that GAA clubs continue to operate under different sets of guidelines within McAvoy's Ulster jurisdiction but, as he says: “That has been the situation from June.

“So there's no change there and at one stage it was the reverse – there were no spectators in six of the nine counties of Ulster but they were allowed in the other three and now it's the other way around.”

He added: “The GAA have made their position clear on the Irish Government's decision. From what we're picking up – and the Executive seem to agree with us – there is a much lesser risk (with people gathering outdoors) and that has been borne out by the Executive continuing with our current today.

“Fans are in a regulated setting, there is a big onus on event controllers and organisers to ensure that we adhere to the guidelines and that has been happening fairly well.

“I think the issue the Irish Government got a wee bit hung up on is with people gathering after a match. In fairness that would have been a traditional GAA thing but I've seen much, much less of that at any game I've been at. People have just left as soon as the game was over and gone their separate ways. So I think the sporting world has been unfairly targeted for that (in the Republic) because it's certainly not happening in my experience.”

The Irish Government's announcement on Tuesday was seen by many as a serious bodyblow for the inter-county championship which is due to begin in October. However, McAvoy remains optimistic that a compacted season will go ahead.

“The GAA will make a final call on the inter-county season in the next few weeks but, as I would see things at the minute, unless there is a significant deterioration in the situation I would still be hopeful that we'll have a Championship,” he said.

“Everybody has to work on this together so if you are going to a championship game in Down or Derry or wherever, you don't go if you don't have a ticket because those tickets have been limited and issued based on our guidance.

“In fairness that has been well adhered to. We've had one or two minor incidents but the GAA community has reacted positively as they have done from the outset.”

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GAA Football