GAA Football

Stalemate at Stormont could mean fans limit stays at 500 for Ulster Championship

500 fans watched Down take on Laois in Newry on Saturday evening. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Andy Watters

POLITICAL machinations in Stormont could mean that the number of fans at Ulster Championship games in the North remains restricted to 500.

The NI Executive was due to rule on the issue of spectators attending sporting events at a meeting this Thursday but that meeting cannot take place before new First and Deputy-First Ministers are appointed.

Arlene Foster resigned as First Minister yesterday and the DUP have nominated Paul Givan to take her place. When Mrs Foster stood down, Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill also lost her position as Deputy First Minister and there is now a seven-day period for the approval of new First and Deputy First Ministers by Sinn Fein and the DUP.

Sinn Fein has suggested it may not support Givan unless legislation on the Irish language is approved by ministers before July 10 and if Sinn Fein are not in a position to nominate a Deputy First Minister the Executive cannot operate. That means the decision on whether crowds at Championship matches in the six counties can be increased – beginning with the Down versus Donegal preliminary round clash in Newry on June 27 – could remain on hold.

“It's a fluid situation,” said Ulster GAA chief Brian McAvoy.

“The one thing that I know for definite is that there'll be 200 spectators in Clones on the 3rd of July for Monaghan versus Fermanagh. That's the only one I can say with any degree of certainty at this point in time because the Irish Government increase to 500 at sporting events doesn't come in until the 5th of July. In relation to the other games, we don't know.”

In Birmingham last week, 18,000 cricket fans partied in the stands while England played New Zealand. It doesn't appear that there will be anything like that number in GAA grounds for the Championship and McAvoy understands that, if a decision is taken to allow more fans to attend games, stadia will be allowed to operate at around a quarter of their normal capacity.

“If the cap on 500 was to be lifted and they were to go with what was indicated in last Thursday's Executive meeting it would appear that we would operate with one-metre social distancing in order to determine capacity,” he said.

“That would roughly equate to about a quarter of the normal capacity in the stadia. Theoretically you could have a capacity of just over 4,000 in Newry but it's all up in the air at the minute as to whether it will happen or not.”

McAvoy stressed that Ulster GAA is planning for “a number of scenarios” including the go-ahead being given for increased numbers at games.

“We're planning for 25 per cent capacity and we're planning for 500 fans,” he said.

“You have to plan for both potential outcomes. If we do get a 25 per cent capacity you can say for certain that there'll be no tickets on general sale – everything will done through the GAA channels, it would have to be through the clubs.”

And there are other factors to be considered in Ulster. Irish Government advice at the minute is that people in the Republic shouldn't travel to the North unless the journey is essential.

“That's the current Government advice, so I don't know where that leaves us,” said McAvoy.

“We have to plan for everything but if the game in Newry was tomorrow, 500 fans is the status quo - that is the current position unless is changes. That's the reality and it's 200 in the Clones for Monaghan v Fermanagh and that won't change until the 5th of July.”

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