The first major challenge facing Kevin Potts as he begins work as the new CEO of the Irish Rugby Football Union is to do everything in his power to get crowds of significant size into the Aviva Stadium in a little over four weeks.
With daily Covid cases running at three times the current 5,000 maximum crowd allowed at an outdoor event, that is a daunting prospect.
Discussions are taking place though between the IRFU and Government officials and at this stage the logistics are being followed to allow for full capacity crowds at the three Men’s home games against Wales on February 5th, Italy on February 27th and Scotland on March 9th.
The U20 Six Nations will get underway the day before the senior tournament with games against the same opponents on the same weekends taking place at Musgrave Park in Cork. The Women’s tournament will be played in April.
The current restrictions are in place until the end of this month in Ireland and are also in place to an even greater extent in other competing countries.
Wales and Scotland are imposing a ‘behind closed doors’ policy on sporting events at the moment and France have a similar 5,000 limit and are also only allowing players and backroom teams that are fully vaccinated.
Only England of the competing countries currently allows for a full unrestricted capacity at matches, with no change likely to Covid restrictions within the next three weeks at a minimum, according to Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking yesterday.
One Nation Staging
This has raised the potential of England staging the entire tournament as a means of ensuring the maximum potential revenue and atmosphere at the games.
There would certainly be enough stadia to carry it off with the potential of a shared cost across the unions to cover the rental of the grounds and the staging of the matches.
The full broadcast rights would still apply as they would if the games were played in Dublin, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Rome and Paris and teams could live within a bubble around each of the games, as has been the case over the last near three years for international games.
The hope is that this would be a last resort and that it would be organised at a central level to remove the burden of cost and administration falling on those who would have to travel.
It is difficult to forecast the epidemiology of Covid in these winter months and it is similarly hard to judge what the political and the public reaction would be to a switch.
The IRFU will point to the success of staging full attendances at the three international matches played in the Aviva Stadium in November, and doubtless push towards the importance of a return to normal activity as being vital from an economic and social perspective, as well as being low risk medically.
There will be a backstop number in mind as well but it would need to be 50 per cent capacity to make any degree of financial sense. 25,000 for the Wales game and the potential of full stadia for the other matches would look like a win at this point.
Sport for Business Perspective
Sport is only part of the swirl of considerations around reopening of society once more, changes to close contact rules and the accelerated rollout of booster vaccines. Hospital numbers will be the key determinant in Government thinking but if the line has been held on schools that go back today, then there has to be a strong case for the games going back to a near full number as well.
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