COVID-19 venue news: Aviva Stadium, GelreDome and more

Aviva Stadium

Aviva Stadium marked its 10-year anniversary yesterday (Thursday), with the Dublin venue stating it would be ready to adapt to become a socially distant site for sports events, once public health guidelines allow.

The 51,700-seat Aviva Stadium opened in May 2010 replacing Lansdowne Road, then the world’s oldest operating international stadium. The redevelopment project was a joint initiative of the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) and Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU), funded in part by the government.

Aviva agreeing to come on board as naming rights sponsor in 2009 in a landmark deal was also key in enabling the project to be completed on time and on budget. The insurance company extended this contract through to 2025 back in January 2018 and has released a video to mark the stadium’s anniversary.

Now the home of Irish rugby and football, 7.2 million fans have attended games and concerts at Aviva Stadium across 192 events since July 2010. Aviva Stadium has hosted 88 rugby matches, 90 football matches and 14 concerts in that time.

Martin Murphy, stadium director, said in a statement: “It may not be the 10-year anniversary we had anticipated at the start of the year. We are however very conscious of the stadium’s heritage. Aviva Stadium is built on greatness and the redevelopment into the world class venue we are today would not have been possible without the support of the Irish people through government investment. We are pleased to be able to support the country’s efforts during these unprecedented times.

“We have hosted some classic sporting moments at Aviva Stadium, and we look forward to many more. To that end we are working very closely with our stakeholders at the FAI and the IRFU and with leading sports venues around the world to ensure that Aviva Stadium is ready and able to host games in whatever format just as soon as public health guidelines allow.”

Aviva Stadium is currently operating as a COVID-19 testing centre and Murphy told Irish broadcaster RTÉ that while it is unlikely fans will be allowed to attend events this year, plans are in place to stage behind closed doors events.

The Irish Defence Forces are running the test centre, with Aviva Stadium, on behalf of the IRFU and the FAI, having offered its facilities to the government.

Murphy said: “We will be following the lead from other sports. Ultimately, we want to see the stadium full again, but it will be some time before that can happen. We envisage games behind closed doors, then partial numbers and then something approximating full numbers depending on social distancing and measures in place.”

Murphy said Aviva Stadium could be transformed into a socially distant venue with less than a weeks’ notice. He added: “We would create a cocoon, a sterile and safe cocoon for the teams and match officials with no interaction other than that cocoon. We have detailed plans.

“We have done our research, what others are doing, what Germany is doing and a lot of that is still evolving. We have detailed plans drawn up with the FAI and IRFU behind closed doors.”


Dutch Eredivisie football club Vitesse Arnhem has launched legal action against the owner of the GelreDome amid a dispute concerning the rental agreement for its home stadium.

The dispute comes amidst the ongoing suspension of Dutch football. The Dutch Football Association (KNVB) last month confirmed that the 2019-20 Eredivisie season would not be completed, with no team to be crowned champion.

The earliest football could resume in the Netherlands is September 1, as part of the government’s measures to contain COVID-19. Vitesse is said to pay €1.8m (£1.6m/$1.94m) annually to play at the GelreDome, which is owned by real estate entrepreneur Michael van de Kuit.

Vitesse is reported to be seeking to halve the rent during the months in which football is out of action. The club reported a loss of €16m for the 2018-19 season and is said to be in significant financial trouble.

In a statement, Vitesse said summary proceedings will be brought before an Arnhem court on May 25. General manager Pascal van Wijk said: “As a club, we have tried to find a reasonable solution with regards to the rent, as the stadium GelreDome cannot be made available to us for playing professional football matches in connection with the corona pandemic and the related emergency regulations, which are enforced by the government.

“Unfortunately, this did not lead to the desired result. Therefore, we are forced to start a procedure.”

Van de Kuit on Thursday stated he had made several proposals to help Vitesse. He said, according to Dutch broadcaster Fox Sports: “But Vitesse does not want to hear that. Yesterday another proposal from me was rejected. It seems that there really is no money at all, although the club guarantees that there are no liquidity problems.”

Van de Kuit believes Vitesse should call on the help of its owner, Russian billionaire Valeriy Oyf. He added: “Vitesse’s balance sheet states that this man will provide financial guarantees until 2023 and that he will make additional payments if necessary. It seems to me that the chairman of the club should call this man.”

Stamford Bridge

English Premier League football club Chelsea has extended its scheme providing meals to the National Health Service (NHS) and charities that support elderly and vulnerable groups.

Last month, Chelsea began providing 78,000 meals for an initial six-week period. The club today said it will be extending this period for a further fortnight, bringing the number of distributed meals to a total of 115,520.

The meals, which are free of charge, are being prepared by Chelsea’s catering partner Levy and distributed daily, with over 14,000 meals per week provided.

The meals are being provided to Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust across their five local hospitals in London, including St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, Charing Cross Hospital in Fulham and Hammersmith Hospital.

As well as its commitment to the NHS, Chelsea is working alongside charity partners to support the elderly, those in sheltered accommodation and vulnerable groups. These include Age UK, The Smile Brigade, Unity Works, and other housing units in London.

The club has also made the Millennium Hotel and Copthorne Hotels at its Stamford Bridge stadium available to the NHS.

Madejski Stadium

A mobile testing facility for COVID-19 is being hosted by Championship football club Reading at Madejski Stadium this week.

Organised by the Department of Health and Social Care, working with the armed forces and the club, tests will be taking place for four days, having commenced yesterday.

The unit at Madejski Stadium is part of the government’s attempts to increase access to tests via travelling units, operated by specially trained Armed Forces personnel who collect swabs on site and then send them to laboratories for processing.

Nigel Howe, Reading chief executive, said “These units assist the government’s national effort, support our NHS and provide for our keyworkers as well as those most vulnerable in the battle against COVID-19. So we are delighted to work closely with the local health authorities and the Armed Forces and help to serve our community at this difficult time.”

Images: Irish Defence Forces