Martin Murphy would like the Government to stipulate that masks are mandatory in Aviva stadium for those that attend matches if Nphet continues to advocate for them to be worn in crowded spaces.
Murphy, the Aviva stadium director, who chairs a working group involving representatives from the IRFU, GAA and FAI to oversee the practicalities of ensuring a safe return for spectators when feasible to sports stadia, explained: “What I would like the Government to do is that if Nphet are recommending and want people to wear masks, then let the Government mandate it.
“We are not the experts as to whether masks should be worn or not but if they [Nphet] think masks should be worn then make it mandatory. There is the fact that everyone coming to the matches needs to be vaccinated as well and the IRFU has stipulated that in their terms and conditions. Let the Government reinforce that, we have no problem and fully support any of those matters.”
A more immediate priority, though, is to coax a decision from the Government with regard to capacity issues, currently restricted, ahead of the start of the National Leagues in GAA at the end of the month and the Ireland rugby team’s first game in the Six Nations Championship against Wales on Saturday, February 5th.
Speaking specifically about rugby, Murphy admitted: “We are right up against the wire. What I have said to Government is that we really need a decision this week. We are ready to go. We have two [obvious] scenarios at the moment, one is the 5,000 capacity, which is where we are and the other is the full house.
“There are massive problems if we don’t get a full house because you have Welsh people [roughly 6,000 tickets] coming over. The ticket allocation is not the biggest [logistical] problem because the tickets are allocated for a full house; they have been bought but not distributed yet. There are some challenges in that but we have two weeks to react if we get a decision on Friday.”
The expectation is that the Government will lift the restricted capacity on stadia in a formal announcement on Friday given that the Omicron peak may have passed. The IRFU has sold tickets for the home matches against Wales, Scotland and Italy through the regular channels of 10-year ticket holders, corporate interests, the supporters club, provincial branches, clubs and schools based on a full capacity, hoping that they won’t have to revise downwards.
Murphy continued: “The 5,000 [capacity] is catered for; it’s a nightmare but you know what you are dealing with there. It rules out so many people from going to the match, including anyone from Wales that is coming across. That’s the default position.
“It is dealing with the outcomes of other decisions, [say if there was a capacity] with 50 or 75 per cent permitted. That [provides] massive problems for everyone. You have the Welsh coming to town having been allocated tickets but not given their tickets yet. People are going to travel, they have got hotels booked, they have flights booked and inevitably they are going to travel.
“If we had a week more we would be in a better position. All of the indications are that we are heading in the right direction [in terms of the pandemic] and I think what gave us most encouragement was that Wales and Scotland, who have been very conservative in terms of their management of it [Covid-19] have gone from no crowds to full houses in the case of Wales and 500 to full houses in the case of Scotland. That’s with immediate effect almost.”
It is anticipated that the Irish Government will deliver some good news on Friday to sports fans in lifting capacity restrictions in sports stadia.