Reports in British media this morning suggest that fans could be allowed back into sports stadia in England as early as next month.

This seems counter to the current more stringent than previous restrictions across England, and the rising case numbers of Covid-19 but the BBC is reporting that opening the turnstiles is a ‘personal priority’ of Prime Minister Boris Johnston.

You might think there were other matters pressing hard for inclusion on that list but a return to fans there would be a natural boost for stadia and sporting bodies here as well.

Concerns had been raised in Britain at the fact that some indoor venues including the O2 Arena and the Royal Albert Hall were being planned for reopening with audiences of up to 5,000.

The reaction from Government as we reported in last week’s Return to Stadia Weekly was that sport was a far wider exercise and that there were different challenges at play there.

Now it seems that there may have been a shift.

‘Constructive talks’

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden hosted a virtual meeting yesterday with football leaders where it was reported that ‘constructive talks’ had taken place about the potential return of fans in areas where the incidence of the virus was sufficiently low, perhaps even ahead of Christmas.

It had previously been felt that a return before April would be more likely.

The repercussions of a switch could impact Ireland in more ways.  If Irish stadia remain shut to fans in February, is there a possibility that matches in the Guinness Six nations could be shifted away from the Aviva Stadium towards Twickenham?  Our other home game is against France while we will travel to Cardiff, Edinburgh and Rome.

Further down the road is it possible that the matches scheduled to take place in Dublin for the delayed Euro 2020 finals might be shifted towards a venue where crowds are allowed?

It is, of course, all just speculation at this point in time but when different measures are begun to be applied, there will be fresh questions arise about financial needs at a time where one venue over another might deliver a return.

Ulster rugby will welcome 1,000 fans to Kingspan Stadium in Belfast this weekend.  The largest such number to attend any sporting fixture on the island since March.


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