Irish government rules out mass gatherings until end of August

Over 56,000 attended last year's All-Ireland Ladies Football Final at Croke Park
A record crowd of over 56,000 attended last year's All-Ireland Ladies Football Final at Croke Park

The Irish government says mass gatherings - including at sporting events - will not take place in the Republic of Ireland until after August.

An Irish government statement on Tuesday said events with crowds of more than 5,000 would not be licensed until at least the end of the summer.

The news will lead to further doubts about whether sport will resume in the Republic in the near future.

Sport in Ireland has been on hold since early March because of coronavirus.

The decision was taken at a meeting of the Irish cabinet on Tuesday.

Sport considers behind-closed-doors option

Tuesday's announcement suggests that holding behind-closed-doors events may be the only way to complete major sporting competitions such as the GAA's inter-county championships in addition to seeing Pro14 and European Champions Cup rugby matches taking place in Ireland.

Shortly after Tuesday's news, organisers of the Galway Races horse racing festival said this year's event, scheduled to take place between 27 July and 2 August, would not be open to the public but could still take place.

The Football Association of Ireland said it would seek clarity from the government on the decision with the League of Ireland campaign on hold and the Republic of Ireland national team scheduled to begin its Nations League campaign in early September.

The GAA announced earlier this month its games would not resume until at least July and is now set to further examine the viability of playing major games without spectators.

Speaking to BBC Sport Northern Ireland shortly before the Irish government's announcement, GAA's communications director Alan Milton acknowledged the association was considering the behind-closed-doors option.

"We have never envisaged a scenario where we would try and play our games without people in attendance," Milton told BBC Sport Northern Ireland's Thomas Niblock.

"It defies logic and goes against the grain for so many people who volunteer for the GAA.

"Having said that, if we get to a scenario later in the year, where there are two choices on the table where one is a championship with no people and the other one is no championship, I think that would frame a very different conversation and a different narrative."

Milton added that the GAA was "still some way off that" but that was before the Irish government's announcement later in the afternoon.

Antrim football manager Lenny Harbinson
Lenny Harbinson's Antrim were among the teams set to be involved in the new Tier Two Football Championship this summer

'Tier Two won't happen'

The GAA's communications director acknowledged that the new Tier Two Football competition will not happen this year and said a return to the old, straight knockout format could be in the offing for the 2020 championship if indeed it does take place.

"The scenarios will come down to the number of weekends we have to run off any competition if we are lucky enough to be in a position to run them off.

"There are two obvious options that stand out there, the traditional model of straight knockout and the second could be the backdoor model brought in around 2000 where teams could lose one game but remain in the hunt."

Milton said the GAA could opt for effectively a club-only return to action, given the lower crowds that would be involved.

"The crowds and numbers involved in the club game would lend itself to a far easier return if things continue to improve.

"But we don't have any concrete evidence that we will be in a position to even return to club activity at this point in time.

"100 people or 500 people attending a game would be far more manageable than 15,000 or 20,000, never mind 40,000 or 80,000 later in the year.

"Where we stand in terms of dressing rooms and social distancing, we have to discuss with the experts."

Championship wipeout would cost GAA 60m Euro

Milton acknowledged that a complete wipeout of this season's remaining inter-county action could cost the GAA up to 60m Euro, which he termed a "considerable amount of money".

"There are three chunks to that finance that help fuel the organisation and help employ so many coaches and indeed administrative staff at every level of the association right across the island.

"The first one is obviously gate receipts. The second would be broadcast fees and the third would be our sponsorship and partnership arrangements."

Despite the GAA being posed with challenges which Milton described as the "biggest the association has faced since the 1920", he insisted that financial concerns would not be a "driving factor" in any decisions on the championship.

"There will be no decisions taken to organise games if it's not the right thing to do," Milton added.

"If that would mean jeopardising the health and wellbeing of people, it won't happen."