IRFU officials only learned of the decision to request a postponement of Ireland’s home game against Italy in the Guinness Six Nations on the RTÉ News last night.
24 hours earlier they had issued a statement saying that the games across the U20, Women’s Six Nations and at the Aviva Stadium would go ahead.
They will now meet with Minister of Health Simon Harris later this morning to seek further clarity on why the request has been made and what other arrangements are likely to be followed through on.
Minister Harris confirmed that meeting would take place on Twitter last night, 45 minutes after the IRFU issued a statement calling for it.
The statement read that “The IRFU is seeking an urgent meeting with Minister Harris as to the specific reasoning behind calling for the cancellation of the Ireland V Italy Six Nations fixture in the context of the Government’s overall travel policy to and from Italy and other affected countries.”
“Until such time as the IRFU has had contact with the Minister and gets an understanding of the government’s strategic policy on travel to and from Ireland and the cancellation of mass gatherings, it is not in a position to comment further.”
The reason for the concern is the spread of the virus in Northern Italy which is the heartland of Italian Rugby and the likely inbound movement of at least 2,500 fans over the weekend after next.
Rugby weekends tend to be as much about the whole weekend rather than just a game though and the IRFU will ask the question of whether, in the absence of wider restrictions, there is any real health benefit in cancelling the game.
As one of only six games that Ireland will play at the Aviva Stadium this year the financial hit on ticket revenues as well as any potential shortfalls in-stadium revenue, broadcast and sponsorship could be significant.
Coming off the back of a Rugby World Cup Year where there were no games in the Guinness November Series, the timing is exacerbated.
A tightening of controls over mass gatherings and the movement of people was always likely as we flagged at the start of the month when looking back on events from 2001 and the bid to contain Foot and Mouth disease.
Statements outlining a ‘wait and see’ approach have been issued by organisers of the Olympic Games in Tokyo and the Euro 2020 Tournament part of which will be staged here in Dublin in June.
The disruption is almost unimaginable and yet it is less than 20 years since we managed to come through Foot and Mouth. Public Health will always trump any other considerations and unless the IRFU can present a very strong case or embarrass the HSE into being seen as having jumped the gun, then there is little hope of a reversal.
Still, given that lack of any other restriction, and with the right to movement still universal across the EU, it is worth asking the question.
Tournament organisers Six Nations Rugby have said they will monitor events and discussions. They called off the Italy home game against Scotland in the Women’s Six Nations at the weekend, while doubts have also been raised about England’s trip to play in Rome on the final weekend of the tournament.
This is a fast-moving story and every day is likely to bring a fresh perspective on how not only this game but also many more might be affected.
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