Covid-19: Impact on Team Sport in Ireland

Without further ado, I welcome to our meeting the witnesses from the GAA and the FAI, who are joining us from committee room 2 and have been there for some time. I thank them for their patience and forbearance. From the GAA, we have Mr. John Horan, uachtarán, and Mr. Tom Ryan, ard stiúrthóir; from the FAI, Mr. Gary Owens, interim chief executive, and Mr. Mark Scanlon, director of the League of Ireland; and from the Irish Rugby Football Union, IRFU, joining us by external link, Mr. Philip Browne, chief executive officer, and Mr. Stephen McNamara, director of communications.

I advise the witnesses that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. This applies to witnesses who are present in the precincts of Leinster House. There is less certainty regarding the privilege that accrues to witnesses who are joining us by videolink. I am not saying privilege does not accrue but the matter has never been tested in court. If witnesses are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter, they must respect that direction. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. I hope witnesses will respect that advice.

All of the opening statements have been circulated in advance. I ask witnesses to limit their statements to five minutes. I invite Mr. Horan to make his opening statement.

Mr. John Horan

Ar son Cumann Lúthchleas Gael, I thank the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response for the invitation to engage with it on a topic that has been uppermost in our thoughts, and the thoughts of many individuals and organisations, during what has already been an extremely challenging year. The events of recent days have brought that into sharp focus, reminding us of the importance of collective responsibility and staying the distance in the fight against the pandemic. While we are here as the three largest sporting organisations in the country in terms of participation and profile, I am also conscious that we represent all of the incredible sporting associations in the country and the volunteers who sustain them.

Studies the world over recognise the importance of the sporting and physical and active health of a nation. As a former secondary school principal of a large inner city school for almost ten years, I have seen at first hand the role that sport and recreation have to play in the physical, mental and emotional well-being of young people, and their positive impact on their communities. Be it swimming, cycling, athletics, basketball, boxing or any of the many other sports being promoted as well as our sports, it is important to recognise the return on State investment and support of sport is a stronger, healthier, happier and a caring population.

The GAA is primarily about two things, people and the playing of games. There is so much more to what we do but, in essence, the vast majority of what we do falls under these two headings. On 12 March last, we lost our ability to stage games and activities. Crucially, the importance of people across our wider membership came to the fore in ways that previously we could only have imagined. In standing down our games and activities when we did, we set out one of the key principles of our approach to dealing with Covid-19, namely, to assist the country and people of Ireland in any way possible to deal with the pandemic. From that day through to this one, being cautious and responsible, keeping the safety of our membership and their communities paramount and remaining consistent with public health advice have underpinned everything we have done at local and national level.

The response of our clubs and their members to lockdown was staggering, helping to establish Community Call in conjunction with partners and other Government agencies. Some 20,000 people volunteered to oversee basic menial tasks such as shopping and the collection of medicines for people in more than 35,000 households across all 32 counties who were either cocooning or in a vulnerable category. Additionally, a myriad of other organic voluntary activity is taking place across our network right across the island and further afield, not to mention incredible charitable initiatives and fundraising. We were also delighted to make our facilities available to the HSE at 20 locations throughout Ireland, seeing stadiums and clubhouses being used in a way we never previously considered. It was, in fact, a very visible GAA response to the fight in flattening the curve and a source of pride for us to see our facilities so prominent.

Another cornerstone of our approach was to appoint a Covid-19 advisory committee, chaired by Shay Bannon and including An Cumann Camógaíochta and the Ladies Gaelic Football Association. In so doing, we were one of the first organisations to take that step. The medical expertise offered by this respected grouping has guided us on every step of the journey and will continue to do so in the months ahead. The emphasis we have placed on our plans to return has been one of safety first and we remain steadfast in this commitment.

While it has been difficult to quantify the loss of games to communities and people throughout the country, we know from the outpouring of positivity on their return how badly they were missed. In three of the most recent Government policies on mental health, sport has been highlighted as a major protective factor. Similarly, in our most recent return on investment report, conducted by Munster GAA, 64% of parents cited the positive impact of sport on mental health as one reason for overseeing the participation of their child in organised sport.

For many, the games and associated activity provide a pulse and rhythm to their lives and communities. Nowhere was the absence of games and training more acutely felt than among our youngest and most senior members. In the absence of classroom schooling, it is an accepted fact that many young people struggled with isolation and being away from their friends. Similarly, the social outing that was the stroll to the local field and the accompanying catch-up was sorely missed by our more experienced members, many of whom were housebound for long periods. It was a way of living that we never thought we would have to contemplate.

The physical importance of sport and exercise is well known to us all but one major lesson from the whole experience, which is not finished yet, has been the importance of mental well-being and the social element to physical activity, not least when it is undertaken around others. It was for these reasons that we decided at a very early stage that any return to activity would be for the many and not the few. Our decision to return with club activity was taken with 100% of our players in mind and not only the 2% who play our games at inter-county level. It was our belief all along, which was borne out, that club activity at every level and right across the island would reinvigorate communities and provide a badly missing sense of purpose and unity. Needless to say, it was not without its challenges. Within ten days, we constructed a dual approach to our phased return. This was not as fast as it might have been but it was our intention to ensure that our members came back to our games both educated and comfortable at the pace of return. Our watch words were safety, caution and acting responsibly.

We asked every active member to complete an e-learning module in addition to filling out an online questionnaire every time they presented for either training or games. That questionnaire has been completed more than 7.3 million times, peaking on a recent Saturday at 120,000 in one day. At peak times, eight forms are completed every second. Similarly, we were determined to stage as many of our GAA Cúl Camps as possible at a time they were so badly needed. One positive case, unconnected to the playing of our games, from an attendance of 71,000 children aged between six and 13, vindicated our decision to proceed with the ever-popular camps, which were overseen by 4,000 coaching personnel at 900 venues. Our games have been back for 13 weeks and while a small number of clubs have been impacted by a positive Covid case in their community, the numbers are minute when set against an organisation of 600,000 active members across 1,600 clubs.

Mr. Tom Ryan

Finance and the generation of funds is not the raison d'être of Cumann Lúthchleas Gael but, like every other organisation, it is an important element of what we do and it has to be. It allows us to employ coaches, invest in facilities and to plan for the future growth of the organisation while safeguarding the health and vibrancy of our national games. We can only reinvest moneys we generate. Our commitment is to reinvest 85 cent of every euro received into the growth and development of the GAA at school, club, county, provincial and national level. Whether it is having an army of 365 coaches working in schools and clubs, helping to develop club facilities in local communities, or supporting injured players and growing participation, the work of the GAA to stay relevant is constant.

To say that our financial predicament is stark would not be an overstatement. It is our estimation that in 2020 alone, there will be a €50 million hole in our finances. We are working through possible scenarios for 2021 but it seems certain that further losses will follow of at least €20 million. These losses will be felt at every level of the organisation beginning at the most important unit, the club. This unit of the association will feel it particularly hard as assistance from central level and our provincial councils in developing facilities will be curtailed in the short term. The pandemic has also brought into sharp focus that as the national organisation promoting native Irish sports, we do not have an international governing body capable of coming to our financial aid. In that context, we publicly acknowledge the State support that has been earmarked for sport up to this point and thank the Government for its support in helping us to stage our GAA inter-county championships at a time the country needs a focus and a positive distraction more than ever.

This week provided a welcome glimmer of hope for all of us in what are still testing times. Last weekend, many county finals were played across the island at various levels, although without the familiar fervour that the presence of supporters ensures. This weekend, that will change and supporters will return to games in the Twenty-six Counties. While the numbers are small, they represent an important step in the right direction even at a time wider society continues to grapple with the challenges of the past six months.

Our engagements with the civic authorities have centred largely on how we can get people back to attending games in a controlled fashion, and we will continue to engage in that vein. We have developed plans that show how the GAA can demonstrate that we can continue to be trusted and to act responsibility with the safety of people in mind as regards the return of any numbers of spectators to matches. We look forward to working with the other sporting organisations to establish what might be possible for our larger stadia when the bigger games are being staged.

In the weeks and months ahead, we must all contemplate living with the virus and with an acceptable level of risk. As a sporting and cultural organisation with a considerable reach, we remain committed to playing our part and we will continue to urge our wider membership to do likewise. We look forward to the ongoing engagement and support of the State and also to a time when crowds can safely flock back to our games and sports, and sport in general, in the carefree manner that we perhaps took for granted as recently as 24 weeks ago.

Mr. Philip Browne

I thank the committee for the invitation to update it on how we have operated since the onset of Covid-19 earlier this year. I echo what Mr. Horan said in that we not only represent our sports, but the many other sports that are not represented here today that are also facing up to the huge challenges of Covid-19. We believe that rugby has a significant role to play in the physical and mental well-being of Irish people and that, in the face of this cruel pandemic, we continue to have a positive contribution to make to public health and society, and hope to do so for years to come. We have covered these areas in detail in the documents provided to the committee and I am happy to explore them further should the committee have questions.

Before I proceed, I wish to acknowledge how difficult it has been, and continues to be, for all those who have lost loved ones or have had their health compromised by the virus. A huge "thank you" goes to all those front-line workers who have stepped up to help at this time of crisis.

The adjective “unprecedented” has been overused in the past six months but our experience to date and history will show that, if anything, the description of the 2019-20 season as being unprecedented is understated. Our season, and our business operations, were thrown into chaos by the Covid-19 pandemic in March, when our Six Nations fixture against Italy became the first mass gathering to be cancelled. This represented the first major blow to our sport and finances.

Pre-Covid, our financial situation was looking quite positive. Now, we are facing an unprecedented cash flow crisis as we try to work towards the objectives of protecting our national men's and women’s teams and our professional provincial teams, and, most important, ensuring that we preserve the amateur club game and support the jobs of our 500 employees to the extent that we can. It is important that I put context on the financial reality we are now facing. The key issue facing rugby is the absence of spectators at major fixtures. The absence of a clear pathway to the return of spectators, in meaningful numbers, means our perilous financial situation will continue to deteriorate at an alarming rate into 2021, moving to an unsustainable position by the third quarter of that year if we do not take certain actions.

The IRFU is the only sporting body in the country totally supporting a professional game which is massively dependent on the men’s national team’s ability to generate funds. The men’s national team generates 80% of all revenues, which, in turn, is fed down to support all other national teams, the four professional provincial teams and, most important, clubs and schools across the country. Every stakeholder in Irish rugby is shouldering their share of the economic burden, including salary cuts of up to 20%, redundancies and the elimination of all but the most critical overhead costs.

Going into this crisis, the IRFU balance sheet was very healthy and, notwithstanding the welcome Government supports rugby avails of and greatly appreciates, it has always sought to live within its means. However, Irish rugby’s net losses in 2020 as a result of Covid-19 are catastrophic and are forecast to be in excess of €30 million, despite the implementation of the cuts and initiatives provided by Government, as previously mentioned. This excludes more than €32 million of 2020 ten-year ticket renewal moneys due.

We are unable to invoice for these sums in the absence of any visibility of fans attending games. This figure relates solely to 2020 and the outlook for 2021 is far worse. In very broad terms, it is anticipated that the IRFU and the provinces will continue to burn at least €5m a month, primarily on professional game wages and costs. This is not a sustainable position and will require significant additional actions after December 2020 if there is no sight of spectators returning at that point.

The current projected position to the end of June 2021, shows a negative cash swing of almost €40 million from a cash surplus of €28 million in June 2020, to borrowings of just in excess of €10 million, backed by IRFU assets. This is very serious and is being kept under constant review. The IRFU will be forced to commence borrowings in January. If these projections were to materialise, the very existence of professional rugby on the island would be under significant threat in 2021.

Our audited financial statements for the period to 31 July 2020 will show an actual record financial loss of more than €35 million. In January 2020, we were forecasting a planned deficit of €3.5 million. Until we can admit spectators in meaningful numbers into our stadia, and return to some level approaching self-sustainability, the entire rugby infrastructure built over the past 150 years is under threat. Indeed, there may be a requirement in our accounts to comment on the uncertainties we now face regarding future going concern challenges for the union.

We will, of course, continue to follow NPHET and public health guidelines on this, but that will come at a significant cost to our sport, not only at the top level but at club level, schools level and grassroots level. It is our ambition, with the support of Government, to survive as a properly functioning unit and repay the faith shown in us by playing our part in supporting the national recovery effort that will demand so much of us all in the years to come.

We remain available to discuss any issues or provide the chair and his colleagues with any further supplementary information they may require.

Before I close, I extend my thanks to the countless volunteers in clubs and schools around the country who have been meeting the challenges posed by Covid-19 as best they can to preserve our club and schools game. I thank the committees and subcommittees at the IRFU and the provinces and the IRFU and provincial staff, who have adapted to the changed working circumstances and, in the case of our staff, have experienced significant pay cuts. I also acknowledge the provincial chief executives who have worked closely with the IRFU to ensure a coherent and aligned approach to the challenges that we are collectively facing. I thank Sport Ireland and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport for the support they have given to Irish rugby and to sport in general, and I thank the Government for the initiatives that have been put in place during the Covid-19 crisis, which have helped enormously.

Mr. Gary Owens

I thank the Chairman and members for the opportunity to address the committee on behalf of the Football Association of Ireland, FAI, and our members across the country. I echo the comments of Mr. Horan and Mr. Browne about all sporting organisations. I address the committee in my role as interim chief executive officer of the association. I am joined, as per the committee's invitation, by Mr. Mark Scanlon, the FAI's newly appointed League of Ireland director and a member of its new senior leadership team. All committee members will have received an information pack from the FAI ahead of the meeting. If further copies are needed, we will arrange that as soon as possible.

Like all national governing bodies for sport, the FAI has had to come to terms in recent months with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on our game, our members, our organisation and our finances. Little did any of us know when we announced our first cessation of football on 12 March just how long this pandemic would last and the enormous impact it would have on our game. We immediately focused on three key priorities: what our staff could do to support the public health crisis; how to get back to playing football in a safe environment; and what impact this would have on our financial solvency. I am proud that our staff reacted superbly and got involved with community initiatives on the ground. Some of our development officers delivered medicines in conjunction with our sponsors, Boots, while others worked closely with local authorities to provide real support to the vulnerable in the community who needed it most in the lockdown.

Arguably our most significant contribution was the launch of our home skills video programme where thousands of children and young adults participated on a daily basis, eager to show their best to Niall Quinn, Stephen Kenny, Vera Pauw and the coaching team in the FAI.

Our second priority was working with our key stakeholders on developing a safe pathway for both a return to training and playing football. One of the best and earliest decisions we made, in conjunction with our friends in the GAA, the IRFU, Sport Ireland and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, was the creation of an expert medical group where our own Dr. Alan Byrne has played a significant role. This group has played an important role in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic from a sporting perspective and was a crucial step in creating a clear pathway, taking incremental steps supported by medical professionals, for a safer return to football.

Since then, we have issued two further cessation notices, amended and published nine protocols around a safer return to training and a safer return to football, ensured the appointment of Covid-19 compliance officers at every club in Ireland, produced four frequently asked questions videos for our affiliates and players and tested 1,085 international and League of Ireland players, male and female, all with negative results. We have worked with all our members and volunteers to ensure the return of 116 leagues for over 211,000 players across over 12,000 fixtures since football returned to play on 11 July.

As a result of our very successful return to playing football, we are now ready to move to the next stage on our journey to get fans and supporters at all levels back watching live matches in significant numbers. The harsh reality is that our association will not survive financially without fans attending our international and League of Ireland matches. We strongly believe that we can deliver the same standards and protocols for a safe return for our fans in significant numbers. We have already demonstrated that by developing safe, well thought through protocols, delivered with experienced and trained personnel. In this regard, I am particularly concerned about the future financial viability of League of Ireland clubs. They cannot survive without fans attending games. They are almost entirely financially dependent on supporters attending games and we are now entering dangerous territory for them if the current ban on large spectator attendances continues much longer. I know these loyal fans would sign up to any spectator code of conduct to attend matches and keep their clubs alive.

Together with the IRFU and the GAA, we have been working on developing a plan to allow for the safe return of fans to all our stadiums, across all codes, which we will shortly present to the Government through the expert medical group. We are also working with UEFA and FIFA on this project. Next Thursday, UEFA is hosting a pilot test at the Super Cup Final in Budapest when up to 20,000 spectators will attend a live match as Bayern Munich meet Sevilla. We will share the learning and output from this with the expert medical group which we are confident will demonstrate a clear pathway for the return of fans to matches. In the meantime, we will continue to work with the HSE on ensuring that all our games at all levels adhere to the guidelines set down by the Government on Tuesday in the Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with Covid-19 policy document.

As an association, the FAI is proud of the fact that our sport is now played in every corner of Ireland and at every age level. There is not a village in the country that is not a part of the football community in Ireland these days and we take great pride in the contribution our clubs and affiliates make to society. A recent UEFA survey confirmed that the total economic value of football participation in Ireland is €1.13 billion annually. We are really looking forward to hosting Euro 2020 next year with fans attending. It will provide a real boost to the economy when we need it most, with the potential revenue to the Irish economy from the Euros calculated at over €100 million.

Irish football, and the FAI in particular, has faced many challenges in the past 18 months and Covid-19 has only served to increase the significant pressure on all of us who love Irish football to ensure that our game can survive. Getting over 211,000 players back playing is only half the story. Every club in every city, town and village relies on coaches, officials, volunteers, parents and guardians to make those games possible. Every game relies on match officials and grounds staff to ensure the fixtures go ahead and we thank them all for their contributions during a very difficult period. We have gone from one crisis to another through no fault of the hundreds of thousands of these important people who devote valuable time and energy to our great game. We owe it to them to support them, particularly when the going gets tough. It would be very easy for our volunteers to disappear from the responsibilities that go with managing all our requirements in a Covid environment.

In addition, the psychological value of the return of football to so many lives is immeasurable, as our medical director, Dr. Alan Byrne, has outlined in correspondence to the committee. We owe it to all of these people to ensure they have a safe and financially secure football environment to look forward to.

Unfortunately, the financial cost of Covid-19 to the association is serious and, for the second time, we need the support of the Oireachtas. These Houses have always supported Irish football and we thank their Members for that support over many years. We really appreciate the support already provided by Sport Ireland and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport in keeping the association solvent but this time we are not responsible and we are not alone. That is why we have applied this week for support funding of €19.2 million from Sport Ireland via the Government resilience fund for sport. Members will learn more about the financial impact of Covid-19 in the documentation sent to the committee prior to this meeting and I am happy to answer any further questions.

The safety and health of all our stakeholders remains of paramount importance to our association and has come first in any decisions made on our journey to date. Finally, on behalf of the FAI, I would like to thank a number of people and bodies when I have the opportunity. I thank Sport Ireland, the Ministers and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport for their great support over the crisis period. I also put on public record my thanks to all the staff in the FAI for the great work they do every day to support our members. Most importantly, I sincerely thank all front-line workers for their significant contribution to our country over the last six months. Without them we would not be here today talking about a safe return to our games for spectators now that football is up and running again. I thank the committee for the invitation to present today.

I will open the floor to members. The first speaker is from Fine Gael. Is Deputy Durkan taking five or ten minutes?

I will take five minutes to give everybody a chance to speak. I am easy. I welcome our witnesses and thank them for coming before the committee. I compliment them on the role they have played over the last six months. They have shown leadership and encouraged people both directly and by example. All they have done to contribute to the fight against the virus is greatly appreciated.

My questions will be short and simple. We are now entering a new stage, which is challenging in two ways. There has been a resurgence of the virus but, at the same time, the sporting organisations need to be able to expand their appeal, to cater for crowded venues to a certain extent and to remain viable. My question for each of the organisations is as follows. Do they believe they can maintain the safe social distance required in the current climate and the climate that is likely to emerge as we proceed? Are they all satisfied that they can meet the challenges of social distancing, of curtailing the forward march of the virus and of being sufficiently expansive to allow the organisations to make enough money to keep them going? That is my first question. I will only ask two.

Mr. John Horan

With regard to the safety of participants, I am quite comfortable that we have heretofore had good practice in place. We were initially criticised for not returning sooner but we put good education programmes and practices in place. This is why we have not had any major problems in the 14 weeks we have been back. Any incidences of Covid connected with GAA clubs have been the result of outside factors rather than internal factors. I am quite confident that our volunteers who have embraced the great responsibility of keeping our facilities and members safe have done so well and will continue to do so.

With regard to financial matters, a small return of attendances will not turn around our financial position. That is why we have had to come to the door of the Government to seek financial support. In fairness, the Government has been very appreciative of the work we have done and I believe we will get a positive response. We are of the view that whatever funding we get must be distributed throughout our organisation. That is the network within which we operate. From provincial and county boards down to the clubs on the ground, which are the real heartbeat of our organisation, all levels must be provided with financial support because capacity on the ground has dried up considerably and clubs are finding it difficult to remain viable within their communities.

Mr. Philip Browne

I will add to what Mr. John Horan has said. He has expressed it very well. We are satisfied that our clubs have been well educated and there are good protocols in place. At the end of the day, the health and safety of our players and all involved in the game are paramount. We have successfully opened up the club game at amateur level and it is working well. It is interesting to note that our sister unions in the UK do not anticipate playing club rugby until at least the end of this year and possibly well into next year. The three field sports organisations in Ireland have really set the pace and done a fantastic job.

I wish to echo what Mr. Horan has said in terms of the financial situation as well. Social distancing at 2 m would possibly generate an attendance in the Aviva Stadium of approximately 7,000 people. Unfortunately, that would make no difference whatsoever to our financial situation. Social distancing at 1 m would bring us up to approximately 18,000 capacity at the Aviva Stadium. That would still not solve the problem entirely, but at least it would help. The work done by the GAA, FAI and IRFU to put a roadmap together and to look at how we get spectators back into stadia is paramount for all three organisations and for the wider sporting community as well.

Mr. Gary Owens

I will add to what the others have said. Our experience to date is that we have proved through incremental steps, especially with the expert medical group, that we take the right decisions in a safe environment. From the FAI point of view, we have access to best international practice as well. UEFA is doing a good deal of work on this and will carry out a test next week which will be interesting. A total of 20,00 fans will attend. I believe we can get fans back into the grounds in a safe environment.

There is a significant difference between 2 m and 1 m financially. If we can get to 1 m then it makes a big difference and that is a critical goal for us.

We have come together as a group. The three associations are working together. We will put a formal proposition to the Government and we will look for support for that. I believe we can do it. I am more concerned about the financial implications where we have lower numbers of fans attending. We are going to have to work out the implications of that.

My last question arises from simply recognising the points that the organisation representatives are aware of and have made. They have recognised that social distancing is an important factor in curtailing the virus. For example, the 2 m distance is far more effective than 1 m. I recognise and accept the points made in terms of the financial situation. On what will the organisations be relying most in the time ahead? If the organisations go below 2 m social distancing, on what will they rely most to prevent the virus from spreading?

Mr. Tom Ryan

First, we cannot be the arbiters of whether 1 m or 2 m is the appropriate measure to take. All I can say and commit to on the part of the GAA - I imagine it is the same for all sporting organisations - is that whatever the limits are dictated to be, we will adhere absolutely to them and will ensure they are applied rigorously.

All manner of things contribute to a safe environment at a GAA game. It is not only about the number of people we can accommodate in a stand or on a terrace. There are things that we can do there with regard to specifically killing seats and ensuring that seats allocated are appropriately spaced out. We can manage access and egress appropriately into and out of the grounds. We can dispense with traditional things like catering and retail outlets in grounds. We can provide adequate or improved media access and so on. All manner of things contribute to it.

The important thing that I would like the committee to bear in mind is that we have a track record of running games and events. Over the course of a normal year we would cater for millions of patrons at our games. I imagine people would agree and acknowledge that all those games are run safely and to a high standard. All we are talking about now is perhaps changing the parameters that would apply to those games. If the State and health authorities dictate to us what those parameters should be, then I have no doubt but that we can adhere to and meet those standards in a safe way.

Mr. Philip Browne

I would echo what Mr. Ryan has said. We have a track record across all three organisations of running major events successfully and safely. We are three responsible organisations. We will follow whatever guidelines are put in front of us. We will work with Government, and with the Department of Health and NPHET, to see what we can do within the parameters we are given. We have experience in this space and I would be fairly confident that whatever solutions we come up with will be successful.

Mr. Gary Owens

The bit I would add is the international best practice. We are part of a big community and there is a lot of experimentation going on with regard to starting next week. That will continue. We will learn from that and we can share that with the three groups here and feed that in. That will be invaluable in determining exactly what protocols we need to put in place. Our experience to date has worked very well. We are taking incremental steps, working with the expert medical group and the Department. I believe the result of all of that will allow us to bring fans back in a safe environment.

I thank the witnesses.

The next speaker is Deputy Paul McAuliffe. Is the Deputy taking five or ten minutes?

Deputy Murnane O'Connor will take the other ten later.

Yes. I thank each of the organisations for being with us today. There are very few people in this House who needed a pandemic to outline to them the importance of sport to society, our mental health and many other aspects. It would be wrong of us, however, not to acknowledge formally the huge level of contribution sport, particularly the structure of sport, played during the early stages of this pandemic. The organised ability of local sports clubs to respond, whether to assist older people in their homes or to allow people engage online in a structured way, was crucially important and I want to acknowledge that here.

The witnesses are right in terms of the return to activity. I saw joy on the faces of some children in my area. Many people are returning to games across the country. While we may not be able to do that in Dublin, my club, Ballymun Kickhams, is in the club final and we will try to support that club with our red and green flags, as they did with Bohemians, in Phibsboro, with the red and black flags. There is no doubt about the psychological benefits of sport.

While sport is not a business, it does have a financial model. I will focus on that briefly to assist the witnesses make the point that each of them has made. The IRFU has been clear in the figure it has given of €30 million. The GAA and the FAI might outline what they believe their financial loss might be, and I apologise if I missed it in the submission.

Mr. Tom Ryan

As of today, our losses for this year stand at €21 million. We hope to embark upon playing senior inter-county championships over the course of the next two or three months. The amount at risk for us as that championship plays out is potentially up to another €20 million. On top of that, and I am talking here purely as a governing body, the projections for the Thirty-two Counties and the four provincial councils is a further €11 million of losses this year. In totality for the organisation, excluding clubs, I am talking about €32 million lost and the prospect of a further €20 million at risk as we embark upon the championship. It is stark.

Mr. Gary Owens

For us, it is €19 million. Effectively, for the FAI, the association, it is €14 million and then another €5 million for all the clubs affected by it. It is in the documentation we sent, which accompanied the pack we gave to the members.

The figures are stark. I imagine if the risk at local level is included, those figures are compounded. I have dealt locally with one soccer club, Tolka Rovers, which I would say is at the point of closing its gates. It is dealing with banks. Some clubs will have an events facility or a pub on the site; others do not.

How has each organisation assisted those local clubs? Has it been in the form of non-financial support, advice, assistance with negotiations with banks and so on?

Mr. John Horan

We would have liaised with our treasurers on the county boards about that. They, in turn, would have worked with the clubs themselves. In recent times, we have actually engaged with financial institutions with regard to getting funding released to our clubs. It is our intention in the next number of weeks to release funding down through the system to our provincial councils, county boards and club structure to keep all those entities within the organisation viable.

Mr. Tom Ryan

In the course of a normal financial year, we would expect to divert between €12 and €15 million in cash directly to counties and clubs and that is what we had planned to do at the outset of this year. Hopefully, that figure will turn out to be €4 million, which is a substantial reduction. Mr. Browne referred earlier to the prospect of borrowing looming for the IRFU. That €4 million will be funded, at least in part and possibly substantially, by a borrowing programme that we have already undertaken. We started that work last week.

Mr. Philip Browne

The first thing we did at the onset of the crisis was put together a club sustainability fund of approximately €500,000 and tried to assist clubs facing significant financial challenges. We also distributed a Covid starter pack containing materials designed to help clubs open their grounds once games started opening up again. That was probably worth another €100,000 as far as equipment was concerned. Since then we have been very successfully running a series of webinars with our clubs about how to deal with the financial situation and how to raise funds themselves. We used ideas from the different clubs contributing to the webinars and the sharing of experiences has been really helpful and successful. We also have a club fundraising programme whereby we put up the prizes for a lottery-type scenario, which generates significant funding year-on-year. That has been put in place again this year. We are doing the best we can. We are trying to educate, facilitate and to assist wherever we can, and the clubs have been very receptive to that.

Mr. Gary Owens

It was pretty similar with us. We reached out to clubs to try to understand the financial implications of Covid-19. We supported clubs financially. Like the other organisations, we have been trying to brainstorm with them, putting together online lotteries, national draws and trying to find other ways of generating income in the current climate. We have a submission from all of the clubs that decided to respond to it and we included that in our submission, as far as looking for support is concerned.

The initiative Mr. Horan mentioned about dealing with the banks is a really crucial one. Given that much of the land, sports clubs are is State-owned or leased through the local authority, liens on any mortgages would often be against that. There is not the same capacity to realise a debt if a club runs into trouble. I am happy to try to facilitate this with the Minister with responsibility for sport but there might be an opportunity for the three organisations to meet representatives of the banking industry to see what can be done. If the banks step up to the mark, it would take significant pressure off local clubs, in particular, which might have very small loans.

I will not dwell too much on the financial elements because there are other issues I want to speak about. I do not want to unpick the national plan that was been announced only this week. I attended a funeral earlier this week where the doors were closed to many people who wanted to attend and sympathise with the bereaved. #The idea of people returning to a stadium, particularly in Dublin where we will not even be able to return in small numbers, seems a long way off. I agree that we need to start planning for what that looks like, should the virus continue for a long period. I have a question on schoolchildren. In the light of the national plan, what engagement have the organisations had regarding matches for school-aged children?

I appreciate that contact is inevitable during a match and that training is permitted but have there been discussions on allowing matches at junior level?

Mr. John Horan

Throughout the country, matches are taking place at juvenile level, as we would consider it, and-----

I should have prefaced my remarks by specifying at level 3.

Mr. John Horan

In fairness to school authorities at both primary and post-primary levels, they were under enough pressure with the return to school. They have made clear decisions to postpone school games for a period until they get more comfortable in the environment of running a school. The challenges in going to school matches are slightly different from those in going to club matches in that parents would bring the individual child. In school one would look for a large number of children to be moved from one venue to another, and there are challenges there. School activity will therefore be suspended for the moment. Under level 3, juvenile activity will be suspended. That is a challenge possibly facing Dublin this weekend. At our Cúl Camps, the parents of every child who goes to a training session have to complete a questionnaire confirming there are no Covid factors within the house for the child. In that context I think it is a safe environment for children in which to play. As the committee will see from the statistics from our summer camp activity of 71,000 children taking part in our camps, we have good structure in place. My young lad goes to his training session. The children are broken into pods the minute they arrive at the training session and it is all organised in a very structured way. I am therefore comfortable that the activity of younger members, juveniles, is well catered for. Unfortunately, however, under level 3, there is that possibility that within Dublin this weekend, that will be suspended.

Chairman, could I have a short answer from the FAI as well?

Mr. Gary Owens

We are back playing. We have been feeding everything back. We have had a very successful return. We started in early June with the League of Ireland and progressed all the way through to amateur and underage. We have had very few bad experiences. We are feeding that into the expert medical group. There is a case to be made that at level 3 we should continue to be allowed to play, and we will feed that good feedback through the expert medical group. We have found that the group responds to the feedback we give it and the findings we have had from week to week. Level 3 this week will be a bit of a blow to us if we are not back and if we have to stop all the matches, but we will go through the right channels to feed that back.

There is only one rugby club in my area, but I would not like not to hear from the IRFU.

Mr. Philip Browne

I appreciate that. I will just echo what Mr. Horan and Mr. Owens have said. We had successful summer camps towards the end of the summer and, from a kid's point of view, they were enormously successful. It is just so important for the kids to be out on the park. It requires good organisation and good protocols. At club level that can all be delivered. Obviously, schools are a slightly different environment. It is really a matter for the schools themselves as to how far they want to go in giving access to sports during the school year. Some schools are very open to this; others are more cautious. We will work very closely with them and the expert group. Level 3 in Dublin will be a bit of a blow for those clubs that had opened up but we just have to deal with that.

My first question is to each of the organisations. I refer to the €70 million in funding secured by Sport Ireland in response to Covid-19. I understand that the applications opened in July and that €40 million of the €70 million was to be divided between the three main sporting organisations. Do they know how exactly that funding is to be divided up between the three of them? For the remaining €30 million there were three different categories. I presume they can apply for these funding streams individually as organisations.

How much will each organisation benefit from the €40 million? Overall, given the fact that the losses incurred this year due to the pandemic have been outlined, does each of them feel that €70 million funding is sufficient?

Mr. Tom Ryan

I do not know how that funding will be allocated. I am hoping that my colleagues in other sports are of the same view. We do not know. The application process closed this week, and we are expecting that we will hear the outcome of that in mid-October. It was really welcome when it was announced for two reasons. First, it bore out the fact that the plight and the voice of sporting organisations were being listened to and heard, and we were very grateful for the good offices of Sport Ireland in that process. Second, from a practical point of view, and I do not want to keep repeating myself, but people will understand the extent of the financial plight that we were all in, and this was very much a good start to addressing that. The announcement came in July, at which point the funding that was announced was going to make a significant difference. It will still make a significant difference, but the problem is that our financial difficulties have persisted since then, and are growing. In short, we do not know how that funding will be allocated. It will make a big difference, but unfortunately, the financial problems that confront us did not just stop in July. The have been exacerbated since then and I am sure they will persist into 2021.

Mr. Philip Browne

I echo what Mr. Ryan has said. The funding is hugely welcome. My understanding is that the funds are there for 2020, but as he said, we have to face into 2021, and the situation, on the face of it, does not look like it is going to get any better. I suspect we will have to look at this again next year, in terms of how we can keep the show on the road in sport. The funding is enormously welcome. I have no idea how it will be distributed across the three organisations in terms of the €40 million, but we await a decision being made in October on that.

Mr. Gary Owens

The same applies to us in the FAI. We have no idea how the funding will be allocated. There are two important points. One is that what we have actually applied for, we need. I am not sure if the sum total is going to exceed €70 million because I have not seen the other submissions, but anything lower than that would mean that we would have to look seriously at our costs. As Mr. Browne said, it only applies to 2020, and we still have to go through 2021. I cannot see it really improving much unless we get fans back into the stadiums, and we certainly will not get full capacity back in. We will take a big financial hit next year, so we will have to go through the same process again.

According to the FAI's statement, it has also applied for the Government's resilience fund. I acknowledge all the changes that have been made in the FAI, on the board and within the organisation as a whole, that losses have been suffered and that funding has been restored. The new board of the FAI has been set up but I refer to proper governance, etc. It is in receipt of public funding but to reassure the public, if an invitation was issued to the FAI to attend the Committee of Public Accounts, would the association be willing to accept?

Mr. Gary Owens

Yes, of course. We have gone through a significant number of changes at board level. We got huge support at the annual general meeting for the constitutional changes that are required, and we have worked with all the key stakeholders such as Sport Ireland, and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport in that regard. We are confident that the governing structures that we have in place with the subcommittees will put us in exactly the right position, and it is best practice.

I have another general question for all of our guests. How would the restrictions on the number of spectators at outdoor sporting events compare with international experiences?

Mr. John Horan

As Mr. Owens alluded to earlier in his submission, all organisations internationally are exploring what would be considered safe practice. We are liaising with our colleagues in the Six Counties on their experiences because they are dealing with larger numbers. We will follow the best practice that is given to us by international organisations. Along with that, we have a competent health and safety committee within our organisation that works across the Thirty-two Counties and its experience will also be brought to bear in making sure this is all working in a safe manner.

Mr. Philip Browne

In rugby, we have been able to use the experiences of New Zealand and Australia where they have opened up, albeit it is a different environment in the southern hemisphere. We have seen some pilot programmes already in the UK in terms of rugby stadia and we are carefully watching what is happening with the opening of stadia in Europe through the soccer environment. We will bring all of those experiences to bear in whatever we ultimately present to the expert group. There is plenty of international experience out there that we can bring to bear. What is happening in Northern Ireland is slightly different to here. It is likely that there would be more spectators in the likes of Kingspan Stadium in Ravenhill than there would be down here for the time being. We have to look at what is happening elsewhere around the world and we have to take account of the particular circumstances in Ireland as well.

Mr. Gary Owens

An important step for us next week is the UEFA Super Cup, as some 20,000 spectators will be on a pilot test there. There will be good learning from that. In Germany, 20% of the fans are already returning so UEFA will be able to help a lot in feeding in what best practice is and in developing protocols. We have used those protocols in our safer return to training and safer return to play protocols and there is a lot of good expertise in those. We will feed that into the group with our colleagues in the IRFU and the GAA and try to present a best-practice case to the Government through the expert medical group.

What measures, if any, have the witnesses had to take to combat the threat of people congregating outside of sports stadia and grounds? That was one of the reasons initially cited for limits and restrictions on attending matches. On a practical level, what measures have been put in place? Have the witnesses had to make changes to the grounds, for example, to combat that? That was one of the reasons that was given for restricting spectators attending matches.

Mr. Tom Ryan

In the case of the GAA, it is worth bearing in mind that the sequence in which we returned to the field of play was that we started playing club games and juvenile games before we play the big intercounty matches. Given the restrictions that applied to attendances and the profile of those games, we were always only talking about a small number of spectators anyway. In the case of my club, where we had 200 people permitted at a game, when one takes into account the fact that this number covers the players, officials, team management and so on, essentially only 30 to 50 spectators could be catered for. The GAA did not encounter many instances of inappropriate behaviour or congregation, either before or after those games, which is probably not surprising given the number of people we are talking about. We would be of a mind that if there are measures we can take and there is the prospect of slightly greater numbers attending, we will do that. This would involve, for example, stewards on the sideline asking people to keep an appropriate distance and we can regulate carparks and ask people to leave the ground as soon as the game is over. We did not use dressing rooms, for example.

We adopted the mantra of turn up, play the game and go home. We communicated that message to people very publicly and we will double down on our efforts. However, I think the reservations and restrictions regarding numbers were born out of a fear of what might arise, rather than reported cases. We did not come across many such instances.

I thank all the witnesses. What has become crystal clear, not only from our experiences in recent months but also from the statements we have heard from the witnesses, is the positive impact and lift we all got when we saw sport, at all levels, return to our public playing fields, as well as the more organised professional sports.

I direct my first question to Mr. Owen and Mr. Scanlon. Last night was one of those all too rare but very special occasions when a League of Ireland club, in this case Shamrock Rovers, got to play a true giant of European football in facing A.C. Milan. Having to play that match behind closed doors obviously impacted on the financial return for Shamrock Rovers. For illustrative purposes, will the witnesses contextualise the opportunity lost to Shamrock Rovers, given how much the club might have raised in normal circumstances but was lost by having that match played behind closed doors?

Mr. Gary Owens

I do not have the exact figures to hand, but there would definitely have been a full stadium in Tallaght last night. We have partly resumed the League of Ireland to test what level of potential income we might get from streaming. That was disappointingly low, although it was in line with the budget we put in place. It was, however, an alternative way of generating some income for League of Ireland clubs. There was some income from doing this, but I do not have access to the precise numbers. I suspect the income was down about 90% from what would have been expected from a full house at the game. I can get the numbers for the Deputy, and to be fair to the Shamrock Rovers club, it will make those numbers available to us. This is a very good example of a club that would have expected to do really well financially in European competition but which, as a result of not having fans at the game, will now take a significant hit.

Mr. Philip Browne

We have Leinster in a European quarter final against Saracens tomorrow. Normally, we would expect a gate of about €2 million from that fixture, but that is €2 million that will not now accrue, because there will be no one at the match.

I thank the witnesses for their responses. I have a question now that I will pose to all the witnesses. Will they describe the level of engagement their organisations have had and if that has been with NPHET or line Departments? When did that engagement start for each organisation, by what means is it ongoing and how regular is contact? Do the witnesses have any thoughts regarding how engagement could be improved? My motivation in asking this question is not to catch out any organisation, NPHET or a Department. I ask from a genuine desire to understand what kind of communication has been taking place and at what level, and how satisfied the organisations present are with the process.

Mr. John Horan

At the very beginning, to get the return to play right in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, we set up our own Covid-19 advisory committee in early May. Subsequently, a Government expert group was set up. We have representation on that group and that is how our views and the cases we make are communicated.

We had open and ongoing engagement with the Minister with responsibility for sport, Deputy Catherine Martin, and the officials in her Department. They have been very receptive to whatever ideas and proposals we have put forward. We are very happy that our proposals are being given good consideration and have been taken on board, in some cases.

Mr. Philip Browne

I echo what Mr. Horan has said. When the crisis first hit, there was some tension regarding the Ireland-Italy match and its cancellation. Communication since then has been excellent, however. The expert group in Sport Ireland is an excellent conduit to the HSE and NPHET. Our voice is being heard, and that is really important and encouraging.

Mr. Gary Owens

That has been one of the big successes for us. Since we started, we decided between the three organisations that we needed an expert medical group, and we suggested that would be done through Sport Ireland. It has been set up and it meets regularly. I believe it meets weekly. It has been excellent at feeding back and taking feedback. It has responded to any research we have fed in. We have had our own challenges with the international team and making sure it can travel to and from international matches without unnecessary hassle. We have got considerable support from the group on that. The way forward on having fans back in stadiums is to work through the extra medical group and NPHET and to continue to produce the best feedback we can on the international experience. We will get there. That has actually been one of the big success stories.

That is very encouraging to hear. I hope that message goes out from this committee because criticism has occurred during this crisis when communication lines have been poor. It is great to hear a positive story from sports organisations on communicating and liaising with the Government and Departments. I thank the witnesses.

I thank our guests. My questions are for Mr. Scanlon and Mr. Owens. In the absence of a substantial investment package before season tickets go on sale in December and January, which tickets will not attract the interest they attracted in previous seasons given that people expect further lockdowns throughout the next six months or so, do the witnesses believe that there will be a League of Ireland in 2021?

Mr. Gary Owens

It is going to be difficult. The only income the League of Ireland clubs get is through fans. That would represent about 80% of the income. We are currently presenting three scenarios to all the League of Ireland clubs. The first sees fans back in the grounds, the second sees no fans at all and the third is somewhere midstream. We are trying to present the scenarios in terms of the financial support we might be able to provide. Obviously, the feedback from what we have submitted will be important in that regard. I am worried about the impact on the League of Ireland clubs. It will be significant if we cannot get fans in. We will have to have contingency plans for some of the clubs. Clubs that qualify for Europe will probably have a better opportunity. Clubs that do not will really struggle next year. We have enough visibility this year. Going into 2021, it will be very difficult without any fans on the ground and without any financial support.

I am going to push this. I am aware that it is difficult to comment but could Mr. Owens state how much he believes each club in the League of Ireland, even in the premier division, would need to sustain itself?

Mr. Gary Owens

This year, under our plan, we basically supported them to the tune of €3.5 million. We will be looking for approximately the same next year to financially support the clubs. This would basically keep them viable.

Is that €3.5 million so we can have a domestic League of Ireland competition?

Mr. Gary Owens


It does not seem like a lot.

Mr. Gary Owens

No, it is not. With regard to the number of fans who attend games, the proposition is one of improving all the time. One can see that from the quality of the games. We are really keen to make sure the League of Ireland can continue and grow. It is not a significant investment and it would have quite an impact around the country.

Certainly. There are a few representatives here today from Dublin City Council. In the past couple of years, we have been most excited about Dublin being a host city for UEFA Euro 2020. It will now be UEFA Euro 2021. Are we still on track to do that?

Mr. Gary Owens

Next week's game will be quite important. I was on a UEFA conference call on Wednesday and learned that it is still expecting fans to attend games next June. We obviously have to work here with local government, the expert medical group and NPHET. We will have to feed in the information. That is why next week is quite important in terms of the pilot test for 20,000 spectators. This is being done with eye on the UEFA Euro championships next year. As matters stand, we still expect to hold matches here with fans in attendance. We have a challenge in trying to convince everybody that this should happen.

Significant developments were expected in my constituency, Dublin Central, regarding the redevelopment of Dalymount Park. Has the pandemic affected those plans in any way? Are we still on track?

Mr. Gary Owens

We are still on track. Dalymount Park is an important stadium for us and for Bohemians. I have heard of no change there.

I thank Mr. Owens.

I welcome all the witnesses and thank them for their contribution. I come from a sporting background, playing club and intercounty football for my native county of Louth for over 16 years. I was lucky enough to manage my senior football team for four years and currently I am chairman of Louth county board. I also played for Dundalk football and rugby clubs, and I am a member of the local running club in Dundalk.

As we know, over the past six months the country has probably been through one of the most difficult periods in its history. During the pandemic, every member of society was affected in one way or another. It has been a very difficult time for everybody, including older people, who had to cocoon and were, in effect, isolated from society. Younger people, meanwhile, were confined to indoors and separated from their friends. If any positive is to be taken, we can look at how the sporting organisations at local levels rallied and gave their support to the most vulnerable people in the area.

My local sporting clubs in Dundalk stepped in and supported the most vulnerable people in the area. Members did many daily tasks for people confined to their homes, arranging grocery shopping and collection of medicine and ensuring that necessities were available at all times. This was an example of true community spirit.

This was not just confined to Dundalk. Sporting clubs and organisations in the county and all over Ireland stepped up when needed. A great effort has been made by these clubs and it is important that we look after them because of the effort they put in. In recognition of the great effort they made, it is important that we in politics and the people in the organisations running these great sports also step up to the plate. There is no doubt these local clubs have suffered financially during the Covid-19 pandemic. We had financial supports for businesses, which was right, but we must also support our sporting organisations.

I welcome the Government commitment to provide over €40 million to sporting organisations but we must also support our clubs. As I said, these clubs facilitated the only contact that people had in many cases during the period in which they cocooned. We must recognise the benefit of such work by clubs in the community, particularly with respect to mental health of people in that community. There is a financial benefit to those actions and, as such, we should provide relevant financial support to these clubs. They provided an invaluable service and in many ways they helped maintain, among other things, people's positive mental health during a most crucial time.

Looking at the overall picture, it is clear that sport, health and fitness became more popular during lockdown. People are now realising the importance of their health and the impact it can have on mental health and resilience. I was particularly struck by the increase in the number of people I saw walking and running in my local town of Dundalk. As a sporting person, it gives me great heart to see so many people involved with fitness. In this respect, I offer the delegations my full support in efforts to promote and sustain the sport they represent. They need Government support to maintain and grow their great achievements. We have great tradition for sport in Ireland and this must be continued.

We must also take advantage of the new interest in health and fitness as everybody in society will benefit from that. The more active and healthy a person's lifestyle, the less time that person will spend being ill, and that in turn will benefit health services and ultimately leave more resources available to the Government.

I am a sports person and I realise the contribution made by sport over the past six months. It is also great to see people taking such an interest in sport. How would people have survived without sport? It is very important that regular exercise be actively encouraged and that kids are involved in sport throughout school, whether it is soccer, Gaelic football or rugby. It is important that sport is not just a hobby but also part of life.

The work done in summer camps really struck me this year and I commend the witnesses on this. I am not trying to promote the GAA but it had 71,000 children attending Cúl camps and there were practically no coronavirus cases. That is absolutely fantastic. I encourage more people to get outdoors. I would like to see more spectators going to matches. The witnesses said earlier that the three groups are working together but what plans are there to get more spectators to see these matches?

Mr. John Horan

As we said earlier, we have worked together and made an input to the national committee on the return to sport so it can carry that up the line.

We will then work specifically around the different stadiums and sizes. Access to stadiums is more complex than people might realise. It is about egress, access and the apron around the stadium as well as the stadium's capacity. The social distancing figures in place are also a factor. I am sure the people in the three organisations who have the expertise in the area will make a robust cast to be put to the authorities and we hope that would lead to an increase in attendances at games across the three sports.

A couple of speakers are left. I will depart slightly from the running order if that is agreeable. I propose to take Deputy Daly for five minutes, then Deputies O'Dowd and Murnane O'Connor for ten each and Deputy Andrews for five, as Deputy Daly is going to Kerry. Is there any objection?

I will have five minutes as I am sharing time with Deputy Devlin. We have five each.

Okay. My question is can I take Deputy Daly slightly out of turn because he has to get to Kerry.

Is that good or bad?

The Deputy will have to ask him what awaits in Kerry, I do not know.

I will begin with questions for Philip Browne. I spoke to members of Tralee rugby club last night. It is probably the oldest club in Kerry, there since 1882. They were very complimentary about the FAI system of return to play which they say is the most professional of all the organisations.

I think it was in May that Mr. Browne said that if he did not have a clear line of sight by September, he did not know what way things would go. England is working towards 10% capacity for some major games. What percentage capacity of the Aviva stadium would be needed to break even or get towards breaking even? Would the IRFU be able to achieve that in a safe way and comply, given how professional the organisation has been with everything else?

Mr. Philip Browne

We put a stake in the sand in September and said we would look at the environment then. We have since moved that stake out to December. In December we need to see a clear line of sight of when we will get spectators back into our stadiums at provincial level and at the Aviva stadium in 2021. If we cannot see that we will have to take certain actions which will be unpalatable.

On the level for breaking even at Aviva, we would be comfortable with 1 m social distancing which would generate attendance of approximately 18,000. That is not ideal but it would be manageable. With our colleagues in the GAA and FAI, we will try to put together a roadmap of pilots to see how we can move to that. One does not want to do it in a big bang. A capacity of 18,000 would ease our situation. We need to ease the situation for the provinces which are very reliant on gate income and have a huge problem without it which ultimately comes back to the desk of the IRFU, as we have to support the provinces. We can do it and safely but we must take cognisance of the advice given to us by NPHET and the HSE.

I presume there would be a similar approach for Thomond Park, I think it is a higher percentage, approximately 25,000.

Mr. Philip Browne

Yes, we would operate on exactly the same basis. We would put pilots in place to see how we can get to a capacity that is acceptable to NPHET and the HSE.

That would work for us as well. One of the difficulties is that if we are putting 5,000 people into the Aviva stadium, there is actually a cost. While the optics look great in terms of having 5,000 people in the stadium, it costs us money to do that. In ramping up, we achieve one objective, namely, getting people into the grounds, but it ends up costing the organisation a significant amount. We have to find those balances. If we have to invest in order to get to the 18,000 spectators or 1 m social distancing, that is what we have to do.

Does Mr. Browne think that there should be a harmonised approach across the island, with the IRFU being an all-Ireland body? Would that help?

Mr. Philip Browne

To be fair, there has been very good co-operation between Sport Ireland's expert group and its equivalent in the Six Counties. We are working very well together. A bit like the GAA, we have teams and our jurisdiction goes into the Six Counties. We are picking up learnings from them and, equally, they are picking up learnings from us. There is good co-operation.

My next question is for Mr. Horan. I was at a meeting last Friday with officials from Cork-Kerry HSE and the understanding there is that no case has been picked up attending or playing any outdoor game. Given that 600,000 people have returned to playing football and hurling, could something be brought into play like what they have in the Six Counties? There, it is self-regulated. The GAA has very professionally returned to play as I know from my own under 12s player clocking in every time he is going to training. Does Mr. Horan think that there should be self-regulation, maybe in consultation with councils around the country, to increase the capacity tailored for every ground?

Mr. John Horan

Yes, particularly considering we are all on the same island. We made a very clear statement at the beginning of this problem that while we were across two jurisdictions, we did not feel we wanted to leave one behind the other. In that context, the Ulster council has regulated a figure of 400 for attendance at matches. That has proved very positive within the councils in the Six Counties and there is a feeling that they have acted in a very responsible and trusting manner. If that responsibility was given to us at this stage down here in the 26 Counties, we would carry it out and it would give us that opportunity also to increase the numbers that attend. While there was a limit of 400 put on venues in the North, it is actually acceptable up there that those numbers could be greater. We try to keep the two organisations North and South together on that within our one organisation. If they stretched it out even further it would cause greater frustration within the 26 Counties. If we had willingness on the part of the authorities for us to make those decisions, we could be well trusted to carry it out and we would be responsible enough to carry that responsibility.

Has Mr. Horan heard of any case where there was a Covid outbreak arising from someone attending a GAA game inside in the ground?

Mr. John Horan

No, none of our evidence has brought it to our attention that Covid incidents have occurred within the grounds. We are of the view that there have been incidents of Covid within the GAA membership, which was highlighted very prominently in the media. Some clubs acted immediately with a shutdown which was probably a cautious and sometimes maybe over-cautious way of dealing with it but again everybody was suffering from a nervousness at the beginning of this pandemic. One would not criticise those decisions that were made at that time. We are confident that cases have been picked up within the GAA membership but no activity within our playing and training areas has caused an increase in the pandemic numbers.

Could I have a yes or no answer from all three witnesses on the next question? Given that Dublin looks likely to go into level 3 as and from tomorrow, that will mean that all non-elite games will be cancelled. Do the witnesses think the Government should move that action of cancelling all games into level 4?

Mr. John Horan

I am no medical expert, but the numbers in Dublin are rising and level 3 may be introduced. Unfortunately, level 3 means that juvenile activity will be suspended. With the successful return to schools, I had hoped that juvenile activity would be allowed to continue.

I thank Deputy Daly. The next speaker is Deputy O'Dowd, who has ten minutes.

I welcome our visitors and experts to this meeting. I would not second guess any of the work done by their organisations individually or collectively. I would love to see all juvenile and senior teams in the country playing again and all of our international stadia full, but Covid is no respecter of sport. While it is correct to say that there is no known incident of Covid transmission at a GAA game, we must follow the public health advice, which the witnesses acknowledge.

I am not worried on that front. Rather, I am worried by the story this morning that, of 40 people who indulged in an outdoor activity called "golf" over a period that I am unsure about, 20 now have the virus called "Covid". Notwithstanding the hurt, upset and anger that exists at this time, particularly in Dublin, and Covid's impact on jobs, unless we act to the benefit of everyone, we will not beat this virus. I have no problem with an all-island strategy for sport, and if public health experts in both jurisdictions say that best practice would see us going in a certain direction, then that is where we should go, but either it works for all of us or it works for none of us.

I laud the full support given by the sporting bodies. For example, they have allowed the HSE to use their community facilities, they have educated and informed and they have regulated their sports in a constructive way. That has been very positive and beneficial. I do not know whether the witnesses would like to comment on this point, but whether it is north, south, east or west, the name of the game is "Beat Covid". Until we do that, we will all suffer. The majority of people love sport. They play it and follow it and their lives are about sport. I am making this point strongly.

Mr. John Horan

The Deputy is right. We accept that any activity done in the GAA's name should be done in a safe manner and should put no one and no one's extended family at risk. When activity returned to our facilities, we were conscious that it be done slowly and carefully. That initial caution has stood the test of time, given that no known cases of Covid have occurred in our facilities or from partaking in our games. The pandemic has to be beaten and, while sport is important, it must be done in a safe manner.

Mr. Gary Owens

I wish to reinforce the point about the process. Following the creation of the expert medical group, all three of our organisations as well as other sporting organisations have worked closely with it. We have all had a successful journey as a result, and if we take incremental steps with the medical professionals, that will continue.

Mr. Philip Browne

I have nothing to add to what Mr. Owens and Mr. Horan have said.

One of my colleagues referred to a figure of €40 million, but the Government has actually allocated €70 million to sport. Some €40 million will go to the FAI, GAA and IRFU, €10 million will go to the resilience fund for governance bodies and up to €15 million will go to the sports club resilience fund to support clubs. Deputy Fitzpatrick asked whether this funding would be adequate. Will the witnesses comment on this matter? Have they applied for these funds? In addition, up to €5 million will go to the sports restart and renewal fund.

Mr. Tom Ryan

The GAA, in collaboration and consultation with the Department and Sport Ireland, will look to oversee that process on behalf of GAA clubs and seek to co-ordinate an application process for them.

In terms of the scale, it is very welcome and will make a huge difference but it does not address everything. As the months ahead of us are still very uncertain due to the pandemic we may need to supplement it with further assistance. It will play an important role in securing our future and that of the clubs over the next few months, and we will administer it on the part of clubs.

Mr. Philip Browne

That is the same position for the IRFU. We have worked closely with Sport Ireland on that. Ultimately, we will act as their agent dealing with the clubs in assessing need and allocating funds.

Mr. Gary Owens

I wish to reinforce the point that the assistance is only for 2020 so we will have the same financial obstacles and hurdles for 2021.

I wish to share time with Deputy Devlin.

I also thank the witnesses. I have learned a lot as many of my questions have been answered, particularly concerning social distancing, protocols, the roadmap and working with NPHET. I welcome the fact that the three organisations have worked so well together. I compliment every sporting organisation on the work that they have done during the pandemic, which has a hard time for many people. The funding amounts to €70 million and there are different sections, which is welcome. The greatest fear is what will happen in a few months. Will areas like mine, County Carlow, experience a lockdown or restrictions similar to counties Laois, Offaly and Kildare recently? We do not know what will happen in Dublin. Funding is important but I wonder what will happen in the long term. As I drove here today I thought this was the first summer in years that I have not attended a field day or events or a clubhouse. Normally, clubs are fundraising all the time and they host the afters of christenings, communions and funerals. Rural community clubhouses, and there are many in County Carlow but I will not mention them in case I offend someone by not mentioning one, are part of our lives and culture so much so that we have been affected by the restrictions. It is crucial, working with NPHET, that we return to normal as much as possible and, therefore, I seek assurance that funding will be made available to all of the local clubhouses. Like other politicians, I have always fundraised and I am well aware of how much work is done by volunteers in communities. Today, we must compliment every volunteer. It is true that one does not truly appreciate these community events until they are taken away and one realises how great a role they play protecting mental health and providing a lifeline to so many people in our communities.

The witnesses have answered many of my questions. With regard to GAA clubhouses and restrictions in the long term, will these events continue to be held when we return to a so-called normal? I thank again all of the organisations for co-operating. It is great for the country to see everyone working together to ensure that we are on the right road to making things right for everybody.

Mr. John Horan

The lack of fundraising opportunities has created a great pressure on clubs because many of them entered the pandemic with debts, projects on hand and s on. Some clubs became creative and organised virtual bingo and virtual runs. All of that was not necessarily done by the clubs in the context of raising funds for their own needs. Some of them took these on board for charities because charities throughout the country have suffered. The clubs were not selfish and split their efforts and energy.

With my own young lad's team, we got a contact from the club the other day to say that because it does not have an opportunity to raise funds for equipment, it was asking everyone to anonymously put a donation in an envelope if it was within people's power to do so. While there were challenges, there was also creativity on the ground. Some clubs got caught out by not having their lotto competitions online. It was a case of people having to go to a local venue to drop it in and that was obviously a major problem during the lockdown.

Creativity definitely came to the fore on the part of the volunteers. They have done a huge job for us. As was stated, when we got the opportunity to return and attend games for that period, it was embraced with great enthusiasm. There is a pent-up hunger for people to get back involved and to socially integrate. The social integration is nearly every bit as important as the actual playing of the game.

It is significant. I have spoken to people in my area. The effect that it has had has been unreal because sporting events play such a part in people's lives, particularly in rural towns. I cannot say how much I appreciate the work everyone has done. I thank Mr. Horan. He has answered all my questions on the roadmap and the protocols. The Minister with responsibility for sport, Deputy Catherine Martin, politicians and all of us are working to ensure that we support and fund sporting organisations in our local areas. We have a significant role to play as politicians to make sure we deliver for our communities to keep the lifeline going so that we are back to normality as soon as possible. I thank the witnesses.

I acknowledge the significant and amazing work that, as other members mentioned, has been done by volunteers in the sports clubs and organisations during the pandemic. It shows how important sport is in Irish society.

I have a question specifically for the FAI. How realistic is it that the UEFA Euro championships will take place in 2021 given the strong international dimension to the competition? What plans are in place for the next season for the SSE Airtricity League of Ireland? It has been stated that clubs will be struggling without match-day attendance but they will also lose out on commercial and season ticket income. What plans are in place for the League of Ireland clubs? It would be great if the witnesses could answer those questions.

Mr. Gary Owens

I will take the question on the Euros and I might let Mr. Scanlon respond to the question on the League of Ireland as he is responsible for it. Next week's super cup match is really important in a UEFA context in terms of planning for the Euros next year, right across all the countries. UEFA is still quite confident that with the protocols which we have used in the return to training and the return to play, we can put in protocols that will allow fans to attend games in a safe environment. The output from that will be key. The feedback I am getting from UEFA is that it is confident that it can hold the Euros next year with fans attending the games. That may well change. I do not know, but UEFA is still confident that the protocols it is putting in place for next week will work. It is using best practice in terms of technology.

Is that taking into account the international travel dimension in terms of the green list and the red list? Has that been factored into the equation?

Mr. Gary Owens

Yes, that has been factored in. We have had a very successful return already. The international Nations League competition has already started and UEFA specifically stated that it did not want any fans attending the games. It has done exactly what we are doing here, which is taking incremental steps. It was the only federation in the world to commence international games so quickly. Only one game was postponed and that was for good reason. We can only go on the guidance UEFA has given to us, but it is very confident that next week will work very well and it is going to use that as a template to guide people in terms of what it does next year.

Perhaps Mr. Scanlon could respond to the question on the League of Ireland. It is a major concern for clubs not to have fans attending games.

Mr. Mark Scanlon

It has been a huge concern already. As Mr. Owens has mentioned, we invested in excess of €3.5 million into both the SSE Airtricity league and the women's national league this year to ensure a return to play, which started on 31 July with the SSE Airtricity league and continued on 8 August with the women's national league. That has been a significant return for us and to do that, we waived affiliation fees and provided support for the clubs' usual costs for referees and match-day operations. We also provided Covid assistance grants to the clubs in order to have their stadiums ready for a return of smaller groups of spectators, as well as making the facilities safe for the players, fans and volunteers. The clubs really embraced that and did a fantastic job, particularly on a voluntary basis, with the appointment of Covid compliance officers in each of the clubs. That return has been very successful and that is why the next steps are important because next year is a concern. We meet with the clubs weekly. We have a strategic working group which met yesterday and the clubs are hammering home their concerns that next year, in the absence of fans, it will be difficult for them to continue unless we are able to provide that investment again.

That investment is around €3.5 million or €4 million. Will there be a shortened season again next season or will we go back to a longer one?

Mr. Mark Scanlon

The key point of this year's investment is that it was based on a shortened season and the games were reduced in the SSE Airtricity league from 36 to 18. That investment would need to be higher for a full season, if all games were behind closed doors in 2021.

To get back to the old longer season format, one would need a greater investment. Does Mr. Scanlon know what that sum might be?

Mr. Mark Scanlon

The final figure will depend on the roadmap and the number of fans allowed back into the stadiums. That is why we are working on three scenarios at the moment, as Mr. Owens outlined earlier. One scenario involves full stadiums, which is very unlikely. The second involves cluster groups within stadiums, depending on what percentage may be safe for a return in the next few months. The pilot projects and international experience will help us define that. The final scenario is a worst-case one where there are no fans. It would be very difficult for a professional league to continue in that manner.

It is great to hear Mr. Horan's acknowledgement of the importance of mental health and sport and the link between good mental and physical health. Does the GAA have a mental health strategy and does it require funding? Has the GAA applied to the Department for funding? Do all of the sports organisations here today have mental health strategies and have they applied for funding for those strategies?

Mr. John Horan

We have a community and health department within Croke Park, which looks after the whole area of mental health for us as an organisation. That requires funding for the staff and the work they do. We also have many volunteers in all our units throughout the country working in that area. Mental health is a key priority within our organisation and we have a specific department within the organisation that works on it.

Do the other two other organisations have any strategies around developing mental health answers to the issues that arise among club participants?

Mr. Philip Browne

We have what is called the Spirit of Rugby programme. Five people are employed, one in each province and one in the IRFU itself, co-ordinating a series of mental health programmes, player welfare and participant welfare programmes. That unit also looks after our anti-bullying and anti-doping initiatives. We have a very specific unit within the IRFU looking at those specific issues.

Mr. Mark Scanlon

The FAI's medical director, Dr. Alan Byrne, has sent the committee a submission, which all members will have, on the effects people have felt, on both a physical and mental level, during this pandemic. The research has shown that it has had significant effects. We are in the process of setting up a sub-committee in conjunction with the HSE and the women's national league, which will be a pilot project for us in terms of mental health. We are inviting players, coaches, club representatives and the HSE to come together to start a pilot project. We hope to roll that out in 2021 to the SSE Airtricity league, as well as our underage national leagues and then spread it out to grassroots level. That is an exciting new initiative that we are in the middle of developing.

Very briefly, Mr. Browne mentioned, in respect of the IRFU, that some of the fallout would be unpalatable. Could he give more detail around what unpalatable looks like?

Mr. Philip Browne

Unpalatable looks like something different from what we are doing at the moment. At the moment, we have a very successful set of structures, a very successful professional game, and we have good success in terms of grassroots rugby. Effectively, if we cannot generate revenues to support those activities, then we are going to have to reduce them, which inevitably means redundancies, lay-offs, scaling back programmes, and maybe scaling back the professional game. All of those things have a negative feedback in terms of the sustainability of the sport. That is why it is unpalatable and we do not want to be going down that road, but ultimately, we have to live within our means.

I call Deputy Devlin.

I welcome all the organisations who have appeared before the committee today and for the statements they have made. I would also particularly like to praise the staff of the respective organisations, indeed, the players and the many volunteers up and down the country who have kept things going. Even when there was not much happening, they were still willing to serve and put plans in place. Much has been said about the €70 million that was given in funding, and that consisted of €40 million for each of the three organisations, and some from other sporting bodies, such as local sports partnerships and clubs. All of the witnesses have referred to Sport Ireland's expert medical group. How often does it meet? Are all the organisations participating at the same meeting and is it a group meeting, as it were? I would like an answer to that question first, please.

Mr. Tom Ryan

My understanding is that the group meets regularly, perhaps on a weekly basis. We are all part of the same forum and we are all very capably represented within that forum.

I thank Mr. Ryan for his answer.

First, I would like to offer my congratulations to the many volunteers in the GAA. I understand from Mr. Horan's opening statement that the organisation is processing approximately 91,000 health questionnaires daily, and various activities have been kept going over the last number of months. As Deputy Andrews stated, in respect of mental health, all sports, irrespective of their code, play an important role in people's lives.

I acknowledge there were significant financial issues prior to Covid for the FAI, and obviously the pandemic is compounding the problem. I understand that it has applied for €19.3 million in funding. I want to ask specifically about the League of Ireland, and the impact of the pandemic there. In his opening remarks, Mr. Owens mentioned the pressures on individual clubs. My question to the FAI is this: are there plans to reduce the registration fees or other costs associated with participating in the League of Ireland for individual clubs? What measures have been put in place to try and ease the burden for the clubs that might not have the same resources as others?

In his opening remarks, Mr. Browne stated that he predicted there would be a €30 million loss for the IRFU this year. Am I correct in saying that there could be another potential €30 million loss for ticket revenue for 2020, plus further €5 million per month going forward?

I appreciate that the organisations have mentioned the importance of spectators, and the importance of spectating for the fans, irrespective of the code. Notwithstanding what happens today in Dublin, how do the witnesses see their engagement with Sport Ireland and the ability to get some spectator sport back on television, or spectators physically in the stadia or on the pitches, over the next couple of months and indeed next year?

Mr. John Horan

The Deputy is quite correct. An average of 91,000 respondents reply to our health questionnaire. One very positive outcome of that health questionnaire being filled in every day on an app is that it keeps an awareness in all those families, because if it is a juvenile player, the parent completes the questionnaire, and obviously if it is an adult player, they do it themselves.

However, it keeps that conversation going in the family of whether the questionnaire has been done before returning to training.

On mental health, we carried out a survey recently and 51% of respondents believe that the pandemic has had a negative or very negative impact on their mental health and well-being. Approximately 75% agreed or strongly agreed that the pandemic will have long term implications for the mental health and well-being of society, while almost 80% agreed or strongly agreed that mental health services will require additional resources to deal with the impact. As an organisation, we have our own community and health unit within Croke Park which deals with the mental health issues within the association. We are conscious of mental health but as an organisation we believe that these issues will become even greater going forward and extra support will possibly be needed in that regard.

Our relationship with Sport Ireland is positive. There are two aspects to it, the first of which involves the safe practices which allow games and training to take place and the second is the financial aspect in terms of continuing to keep the organisation viable throughout the country. As has been mentioned already, the funding that was put in place is to see us through to the end of 2020 but this is a matter that will need to be revisited if we are, as an organisation, to remain viable going into 2021.

I now invite Mr. Owens to respond to my questions.

Mr. Gary Owens

Our engagement with Sport Ireland has worked very well. The next critical step is an assessment of the detailed submission we made and we expect that to happen pretty much straight away. We submitted a request for €19.3 million which would have included some support for the League of Ireland. We have been working with the league in steering groups and are trying to generate income outside of fans attending games. We are looking at enhancing sponsorship as well as streaming, TV and media rights to see if we can generate some income. We are also looking at using central purchasing for merchandise which we believe can add some value to the clubs. Those steering groups have been working quite well but there will still be deficit which we will need to help the League of Ireland with.

On mental health, we have already said what we are doing in that area. We fully agree and we have taken the initiative, as Mr. Scanlon indicated. Have I missed any questions?

No, the League of Ireland was the main thing really, because of its importance. I now invite Mr. Browne to answer the same questions.

Mr. Philip Browne

The Deputy's assessment of the figures is correct. The €30 million loss is up to the end of 2020. The assumption behind it is that we will continue playing behind closed doors. The €32 million figure relates to the sale of over 5,000 premium seats and we managed to get those away in March-April. There was a balancing set of payments to be made by those who had purchased those seats but obviously we cannot pursue those payments, worth €32 million, until such time as we get spectators back into the grounds. That is a cash loss that we would have anticipated having and then the €5 million cash burn is the combined cash burn across the four provinces in the IRFU. It is largely around the professional game. It is important for us to try to keep the professional game up and running because it is the generator. It basically generates the revenues for the rest of the sport.

I want to finish up quite soon but I have a couple of questions before doing so. The first is for Mr. Browne. He talked about 80% of all revenues being generated by the men's national team and that money is used to fund everything down the line including provincial teams and clubs. Are all of the provinces suffering equally in a financial sense?

Mr. Philip Browne

Yes they are. The way it works is that any revenues generated by tournaments in which they participate come to the centre, to the IRFU and we use them to effectively pay the player, coach and technical staff salaries across the provinces. The provinces' revenues are effectively limited to gate receipts, sponsorships and any other hospitality revenues they can generate locally.

They are massively reliant on gate receipts and all four provinces are suffering equally in not being able to have paying spectators through the turnstiles. It has effectively decimated their finances and their business model. The IRFU has had to step in to try to help them financially, which obviously impacts our central finances. The central contracting model has been great for us up to now but in the current circumstances, it is actually working against us.

In short, each of the provinces is equally viable or unviable at the moment. Is that correct?

Mr. Philip Browne

Some would be more viable than others. Obviously Leinster, being based in the capital, has had greater resources available to it over the years and it has reserves. Some of the other provinces also have some reserves but others are in difficulty and we have had to step in and assist financially.

Which ones?

Mr. Philip Browne

We have had to step in and assist all four and we did that on the basis that we want to try to treat them all equally but Ulster and Munster are probably in greater difficulty than Connacht and Leinster.

I mean no disrespect when I say that where I come from we are hugely proud of rugby players who have worn the Munster jersey and the Irish jersey but the GAA is part of life. It defines community throughout rural Ireland. The closed games have been very difficult. What impact has that had on communities and the spirt of communities, with old men not being able to see their children or grandchildren playing? We have seen scenes of old men desperately trying to get to camogie matches to see their granddaughters play. It has been very difficult for people to witness that and not be affected by it.

Mr. Tom Ryan

It is very sad. I know that a lot of the focus this morning-----

Old men and old women, I am sorry. I am not being sexist about it.

Mr. Tom Ryan

Of course. A lot of our focus this morning has been on the financial picture, and rightly so, but the cost goes far beyond finances. The social cost of what we have all had to endure in recent months has been very significant and it will take a long, long time to recover. I can give an example from my own family. I was sent a photograph of my father-in-law looking in over a ditch of a wall, sadly, as his two grandchildren were going in to play a county final in Limerick last week. Those kinds of things have a cost to them that we cannot measure in this room.

Deputies Fitzpatrick and Murnane O'Connor talked about club and grassroots activities but what defines our ability to do those is not just financial, it is also the capacity, appetite and ambition of our volunteers. We would have a very real worry that there is a cost to be paid in terms of the pressure that has been on volunteers, club officers and so on over the past few months. It has been unimaginable. They have been trying to make sure their club continues to keep its head above water while also shouldering the burden involved in getting back to playing games safely. That comes at a cost to people, most of whom are doing things in their own spare time and out of the goodness of their hearts. We owe those people an awful lot and that is why I would not like the focus this morning to be predominantly on the financial side of things. From our point of view, the financial aspect is important because that is what keeps us viable and allows us to pursue all of the ambition I am talking about. We only need to be kept safe; that is all we need. We need to be kept safe for the sake of those people and for all of the social reasons mentioned by the Cathaoirleach. They are so important and we should not forget them.

I am loth to ask a financial question after that but the game has become more professional. When I say professional, I do not mean that people are being paid but rather that the costs have grown hugely for county boards in producing a team that can go out and compete. It is not just 15 fellas coming together on a Sunday morning any more. We are dealing with top athletes and large backroom teams are required to work with them to maintain conditioning, fitness and so on. We see that in Limerick, Tipperary and Clare. What financial state are the county boards in now?

Mr. Tom Ryan

In the normal course of a year the collective picture from counties would be that they would expect to return a collective surplus of about €4 million. For the year we are about to complete, there will be a deficit of €12 million. Funding for counties comes from three sources, the governing body, sponsorship and gate receipts. The cumulative gate receipts around the country for local championship games is in the order of €10 million or €11 million. That revenue is gone. Even extrapolating at a very small level, in Munster we played 1,200 or 1,300 games over the last few weeks since we went back to activity with an average of 150 people at each of those games, which is very modest, and an average admission price of about €8. That adds up to €1.5 million which, although in the broad scheme of the national Exchequer and of our national finances in the GAA and so on it might not seem hugely significant, locally is the lifeblood of those counties and clubs. Ordinarily it is a precarious enough job to keep a county and a club running, the Chairman is right. What we have experienced over the last six months makes that even more difficult. We and those people will have a job to rectify and set right those finances next year.

I will put a very brief question to the FAI. I am reminded of the idea that the good that men do is often interred with their bones while the evil lives on. There has been a lot of talk about failings from the FAI. One of the strengths of the previous regime in the FAI was the camps and funding for grassroots clubs. What cost-cutting measures are expected as a result of the drop in resources and will they impact on funding to the FAI camps and to clubs? I am not referring to League of Ireland clubs but those right across Ireland in small towns and villages, which have received support from the FAI up until relatively recently.

Mr. Gary Owens

Depending on how we get on with our submission, the club structures we have are at the heart of the association. We need to keep them alive and well. I would reinforce what Mr. Ryan has said. The pressure on the volunteers is just immense now when they have to implement the protocols. In our plans, we are assuming that we will continue with the same support. We put in a new process whereby the clubs can look for funding. The difference between the old regime and the new regime is that there is a formal process now in place. We are sticking rigidly to that. Clubs can apply for it and we will support them where we can. In our submission, in terms of resumptions, if we get the support we are looking for there will be no change to that.

I thank all the witnesses for answering the committee's questions. I propose that we suspend until 1.15 p.m.

Sitting suspended at 12.45 p.m. and resumed at 1.15 p.m.