Aviva Stadium will be part of the Irish Government’s pilot programme for the safe return of sports fans, with the Dublin venue’s staging of a forthcoming UEFA Europa Conference League game set to represent the biggest Irish football attendance since the outbreak of COVID-19.

The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) and Premier Division club Bohemian have confirmed up to 6,000 fans will be permitted to attend the second leg of the team’s Europa Conference League first qualifying round tie with Stjarnan FC of Iceland on July 15.

The capacity has been agreed as part of phase two of the Government’s pilot programme for the safe return of spectators to Irish sport. The Government last month confirmed an initial series of 16 sporting events that would serve as tests amid the easing of long-standing COVID-19 restrictions in Ireland.

These pilots were designed to help to evaluate and review progress to advance additional events and increase capacity in July and August. Pilot events include Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), camogie and Ladies Gaelic Football (LGFA) matches, League of Ireland football games, rugby union games and other sports like golf and athletics.

The FAI also said that, as part of phase two, spectator numbers at all Irish football grounds will increase from tomorrow (Saturday), in line with stadium capacity. Upcoming Premier Division, First Division and Women’s National League fixtures to feature in the pilot scheme will now include Bray Wanderers v Cobh Ramblers at the Carlisle Grounds today, with a crowd of 600 fans, while Shamrock Rovers can welcome 1,000 spectators to Tallaght Stadium for tonight’s game against Dundalk and Longford Town can admit 500 fans for Saturday’s fixture against Sligo Rovers.

All Premier Division, First Division and Women’s National League fixtures from Saturday will now be able to host 200 supporters, with 500 in attendance at stadiums whose capacity is greater than 5,000. Those stadiums are Bishopsgate, Tallaght Stadium, Turners Cross, Richmond Park and the Regional Sports Centre.

FAI CEO Jonathan Hill said: “This is another step forward in our Return to Watch programme and we welcome the confirmation that 6,000 fans can attend the Bohemians versus Stjarnan game in the new UEFA Europa Conference League, the biggest crowd at an Irish football game since the pandemic began.

“This is a major boost as we look to get supporters back to League of Ireland and Women’s National League football at pre-pandemic levels and the addition of the Aviva Stadium as a test venue is significant as we look to get our fans back into the ground for the big (FIFA) World Cup (qualifying) games in September.”

The rise in spectator capacity limits will also apply for GAA competitions. For the GAA, the limit for 500 fans at stadiums exceeding capacity of 5,000 will allow for more people to attend All-Ireland Championship matches this weekend, while 8,000 spectators will attend the Leinster senior hurling championship semi-finals at Croke Park on Saturday as part of the pilot events.

Aviva Stadium will also host pilot events in the form of Ireland rugby internationals against Japan tomorrow and USA on July 10.

Image: FAI