There could yet be light at the end of the tunnel for a return of fans to stadia. As venues across the UK prepare to open their gates this coming weekend, plans have been put forward by Leinster Rugby for a proof of concept test event to assess the use of rapid antigen testing in a permitted live crowd of up to 2,000 fans at the RDS.
With matches in the Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup scheduled for the coming weeks, a trial match could take place as early as May 15th when Linster host Ulster. The opening match of the tournament at home to Munster is considered too soon for the detailed protocols around testing to be approved and set up.
The plans have been approved by the IRFU and are a direct response to the Government’s Rapid Testing Group’s recommendation to immediately implement antigen trial events. They were submitted to the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport & Media on Friday, 9th April.
The tests would use an EU approved antigen test that is proven to detect the known variants of the virus. They would be implemented on top of the stringent protocols already in place for players, coaches, staff and media at the RDS.
The secure mobile App and related testing technologies being put forward are also approved by the UK Government and will be used for multiple large sporting events in the UK over the coming weeks.
Rapid antigen tests can be bought over the internet at a cost of around €10 per test. The price for buying at a larger scale would come down to around half that, meaning a cost for the test event, of the tests of around €10,000, a value investment in getting crowds back and agreement on the funding of which would certainly be possible between Government, Sport Ireland, the IRFU and Leinster Rugby.
Up to 2,000 fans, made up of 1,000 balloted members of the Leinster rugby membership scheme and a partner from their household or personal bubble, would be permitted, with 2 metres of social distance between them in the ground.
Pre-match testing would take place by appointment and would be on-site at the RDS
Addressing the plans Leinster Rugby CEO, Mick Dawson outlined the background to the submission.
“This is an expertly researched project, which has been subject to robust scrutiny at every level, and we see it as a key contribution to the Government’s efforts to return our country to some form of normality,” said Leinster Rugby CEO Mick Dawson.
“This initiative has the potential to be used as a blueprint by all sporting, cultural and community organisations for the safe return of limited crowds to their events.”
“In October 2020, a combined working party from the FAI, GAA and the IRFU submitted proposals to the Department of Sport around the return of supporters to our grounds in a safe and Covid-19 compliant manner. The report made a number of recommendations but in particular the need for trial games ahead of any full re-opening of stadia.”
“Similarly, a report was launched last week by the Government’s Rapid Testing Group, chaired by Professor Mark Ferguson, which also recommended the immediate use of antigen testing on a trial basis in schools, colleges, workplaces and sporting organisations as an additional tool to help fight the spread of Covid-19.”
“Leinster Rugby has been working with key stakeholders for a number of months to finalise plans for a phased re-opening of the RDS Arena.”
“We are confident that we have the infrastructure in place to ensure a safe and efficient trial and Martin Murphy, Chair of the combined working party, has written to the Department of Sport accordingly, outlining our readiness for such a trial and indeed, as I have stated earlier, our willingness that any data and lessons from such a trial be shared with relevant authorities and with other National Governing Bodies.”
The 52-page Covid-19 response plan incorporating rapid antigen testing drafted by Event Safety Consultants, Eamon O’Boyle & Associates, adheres to all recommendations contained in the Government’s Rapid Testing Group Report and is in addition to the current Covid-19 Event Management Plan already in place at the RDS Arena and in operation successfully since October 2020.
Since the resumption of professional sport, 11 Leinster Rugby matches have been played behind closed doors at the RDS Arena, with no incidences of Covid-19 reported as a result of these games taking place.
“What we are offering the Government” continued Dawson, “is a pilot test event that meets all the recommendations of the Rapid Testing Groups’ report.”
“This is an opportunity to show that matches with supporters are possible, under strict testing, supervision and management of course, and that there is a roadmap ahead that rugby and indeed all sports and events can follow.”
“The lessons that we could all take from hosting such a trial match would be invaluable as the wider sports and entertainment industry looks to recover from the effects of the last 12 months and looks forward to a better and a brighter future when we can hope to resume some level of normality.”
“At some stage, we have to take those first steps, and we believe that we have a robust and safe plan in place that will allow us to do just that, and plan for the safe return of all supporters from the beginning of next season.”
Join us on the morning of April 29th for the Sport for Business Return to Sport Conference where we will be joined by operators and sporting organisations from across Europe to consider the current landscape around getting fans back to sporting events.
Sport for Business Partners