Leinster Rugby has announced plans to hold a test event for 2,000 fans to trial rapid antigen testing at its RDS Arena.
The trial could take place in the next few weeks under proposals submitted to the Irish Government following its Rapid Testing Group’s recommendation to immediately implement antigen trial events.
Leinster would host a match where a pilot scheme for rapid antigen testing to detect COVID-19 would be trialled with a limited number of socially distant spectators sitting two metres apart. Capacity for this proof-of-concept match at the RDS Arena would be capped at 2,000 spectators, just 11% of normal match-day capacity.
Pre-match antigen testing would take place by appointment and would be on site at the RDS. Leinster said the chosen rapid antigen testing system is EU approved and can successfully detect COVID-19 and all variants of concern.
Leinster chief executive Mick Dawson said: “What we are offering the Government is a pilot test event that meets all the recommendations of the Rapid Testing Groups’ Report.
“This is an opportunity to show that matches with supporters are possible, under strict testing, supervision and management of course, and that there is a roadmap ahead that rugby and indeed all sports and events can follow.
“The lessons that we could all take from hosting such a trial match would be invaluable as the wider sports and entertainment industry looks to recover from the effects of the last 12 months and looks forward to a better and a brighter future when we can hope to resume some level of normality.
“At some stage we have to take those first steps, and we believe that we have a robust and safe plan in place that will allow us to do just that, and plan for the safe return of all supporters from the beginning of next season.”
With matches in the Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup scheduled for the coming weeks, a trial match could take place as early as next month.
The plans have been submitted to the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport & Media and have the backing of the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU).
Dawson said: “This is an expertly researched project, which has been subject to robust scrutiny at every level, and we see it as a key contribution to the Government’s efforts to return our country to some form of normality. This initiative has the potential to be used as a blueprint by all sporting, cultural and community organisations for the safe return of limited crowds to their events.
“In October 2020, a combined working party from the FAI, GAA and the IRFU submitted proposals to the Department of Sport around the return of supporters to our grounds in a safe and COVID-19 compliant manner. The report made a number of recommendations but in particular the need for trial games ahead of any full re-opening of stadia.
“Similarly, a report was launched last week by the Government’s Rapid Testing Group, chaired by Professor Mark Ferguson, which also recommended the immediate use of antigen testing on a trial basis in schools, colleges, workplaces and sporting organisations as an additional tool to help fight the spread of COVID-19.”
Leinster said it has been working with key stakeholders for a number of months to finalise plans for a phased re-opening of the RDS Arena.
Dawson said: “We are confident that we have the infrastructure in place to ensure a safe and efficient trial and Martin Murphy, chair of the combined working party, has written to the Department of Sport accordingly, outlining our readiness for such a trial and indeed, as I have stated earlier, our willingness that any data and lessons from such a trial be shared with relevant authorities and with other National Governing Bodies.”