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GAA have plan B in place to protect this year's provincial championships

With Health Minister Simon Harris warning there may not be mass gatherings in 2020, we answer the key questions that every sports fan is asking.

Will we see crowds like this in Semple Stadium this year?
Will we see crowds like this in Semple Stadium this year?
Image: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Will we see sport again in 2020?

We certainly will see sport taking place abroad with Uefa pushing for an August return date for their Champions League and Europa League programmes and the Premier League likely to restart at some stage in June. These games are all likely to take place behind closed doors as Premier League clubs are aware that a failure to finish this season could cost £1 billion in lost revenue. Golf is also set for a June return date in the US, again behind closed doors.

What about Ireland? How likely are we to see the GAA championships played this year?

No one truthfully knows. On Friday, the GAA President, John Horan, described his lack of interest in putting the matches on in empty stadiums. “Even players have come out and said that playing a game with no atmosphere is no great enjoyment,” Horan said. “But, look, if that was to be taken on board at a later stage, we would take it on board.”

Like their counterparts in the FAI and IRFU, GAA officials are adopting a wait-and-see approach. And it’s easy to understand why given how important a role gate receipts play in their finances – the Ulster championships alone generate somewhere in the region of £2.5m per-year. In this respect, well-placed sources have indicated that the GAA have at least two emergency plans drawn up to deal with this crisis.

Plan A will see the hurling and football championships played out over a 12-week period allowing every team to get at least two games this season.

However, an alternative plan is also in place for the games to be run off over nine weeks. In each plan, the provincial championships will go ahead as normal, as the provincial bodies rely on gate receipts to fund their activities. The source also indicated the GAA have no intention to defy government instructions. However, they are also aware that there is no need to make an early call on this year’s championship as things can rapidly change over the course of this year.

So what precisely can change?

All eyes in the world, never mind the GAA, are on Oxford University, where rapid progress has been made in the development of a vaccine. This morning Professor Sarah Gilbert, who is leading a team developing a vaccine at the university, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr that they hoped to start clinical trials towards the end of next week. She did, however, also caution that is way too early to predict whether this would be “a workable vaccine”.

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Scientific experts have consistently said that a vaccine would probably not be ready until next spring. However, if one is in place before then, then everything changes with regard to sport. That is why sporting bodies are reluctant to make quick decisions now about ending their seasons.

What is the position of the FAI and the IRFU?

Like their counterparts in the GAA, they will follow government advice. “We’ll do exactly what we’re told to do,” said one leading FAI source today.

What are the chance of seeing the Irish international rugby and soccer teams play in 2020?

The people who will make this call will be medical rather than sports officials. Governments have already shown their authority to close borders never mind sports stadiums and will probably continue to do so until a vaccine is found. Given Uefa’s desire to get football matches played again, it is likelier that we will see the Irish football team involved in international fixtures before the rugby side.

However, those matches – Nations League and Uefa 2020 play-off games – will most likely take place behind closed doors to satisfy broadcasters. 

With so much uncertainty going on, predicting a return date for any sporting fixture is a risky policy. However, delaying the 2020 GAA championships and the concluding games of the 2020 Six Nations championship until 2021, in a post-vaccine world, is hardly the worst idea. At some stage during the summer, it will have to be considered.

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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