Leinster submit proposal for fans’ return to RDS Arena

Date published: April 12 2021

Leinster have announced the submission of detailed plans to Ireland’s government for a proof of concept test event, to assess the use of rapid antigen testing as a solution for the safe return of spectators to games at the RDS Arena.

With matches in the PRO14 Rainbow Cup scheduled for the coming weeks, a trial game could take place as early as next month.

Comprehensive plans submitted

Details of the comprehensive plans, which have the Irish Rugby Football Union’s approval and are a direct response to the Government’s Rapid Testing Group’s recommendation to immediately implement antigen trial events, were submitted to the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport & Media on Friday, April 9 and include:

– Leinster Rugby would host a match where a pilot scheme for rapid antigen testing to detect COVID-19 would be trialled with a limited number of 2,000 socially distant spectators.

– Pre-match antigen testing would take place by appointment and would be on site at the RDS Arena.

– The chosen rapid antigen testing system is EU approved and can successfully detect Covid-19 and all variants of concern.

– The antigen tests would complement existing Covid-19 guidelines already in place at the RDS Arena for staff and teams.

– Capacity for this proof of concept match at the RDS Arena will be capped at 2,000 spectators, just 11% of normal match-day capacity.

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,” he said. “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 Football Association of Ireland (FAI), Gaelic Athletic Association (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 is a pilot test event that meets all the recommendations of the Rapid Testing Groups’ Report,” added Dawson.

“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.”