Scottish Daily Mail

FIRST FOOT­ING

++ Phased re­turn for fans planned in New Year ++ SRU to meet with sports min­is­ter ++ Tar­get of 25,000 crowds for Six Na­tions

- By ROB ROBERT­SON Sports · Rugby · Scottish Government · Magners League · Edinburgh · Glasgow · Scotland · Ireland · Italy · United Kingdom · France · Glasgow Warriors

SCOT­TISH rugby chiefs have drawn up a three-step plan to al­low fans back into BT Mur­ray­field from early in the New Year.

They have lodged their pro­posal with the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment and will meet with Sports Min­is­ter Joe Fitz­Patrick next week for dis­cus­sions.

Pro­vided Covid- 19 re­stric­tions have eased, they want to see 5,000 fans in the 67,144- ca­pac­ity sta­dium for the Pro14 derby match be­tween Ed­in­burgh and Glas­gow War­riors on Jan­uary 2.

That fig­ure would rise to 10,000 for an­other league match, yet to be fi­nalised, prior to the Six Na­tions which starts in the first week of Fe­bru­ary.

Pro­vided th­ese tests go well, they would then seek per­mis­sion for 25,000 sup­port­ers to at­tend each of Scot­land’s home Six Na­tions matches against Wales, Ire­land and Italy.

Thanks to a se­ries of cost- cut­ting mea­sures, the SRU have man­aged to avoid com­pul­sory re­dun­dan­cies among their 450 em­ploy­ees — 258 of whom are play­ers — but have made it clear that could change if pay­ing cus­tomers do not re­turn soon.

Fac­ing an £ 18mil­lion black hole if sup­port­ers are not back for the Six Na­tions games, that fig­ure will rise to £30m should

the lock­out re­main for the whole of next year. SRU chiefs are con­fi­dent they have ev­ery­thing in place for a safe re­turn of fans af­ter suc­cess­fully stag­ing a Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment-backed trial in Au­gust when 700 sup­port­ers at­tended an Ed­in­burgh v Glas­gow match at Mur­ray­field. As the threat of Covid in­creased, how­ever, there have been no fur­ther test events. Scot­tish Rugby’s chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer Do­minic McKay said: ‘We have drawn on ex­per­tise across Scot­tish Rugby to sub­mit a great plan to Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment to make the case to re­turn crowds to out­door events at BT Mur­ray­field. ‘The Gov­ern­ment know how se­ri­ous we are about get­ting fans safely back to matches through our con­stant di­a­logue with them. ‘Crowds are now re­turn­ing in other parts of the UK and Europe and we have aligned our plan to the best med­i­cal, sci­en­tific and health and safety ad­vice to make a sen­si­ble and safe case for fans to re­turn on a grad­ual ba­sis. We are ready and rar­ing to go.’ SRU chief ex­ec­u­tive Mark Dod­son says it is vi­tal that fans are al­lowed back into sta­dia to boost fi­nances, although he does not think the Six Na­tions will be moved from its tra­di­tional slot to al­low more time for the pandemic to ease. ‘It is very dif­fi­cult to try and move the Six Na­tions in a cal­en­dar that is al­ready very full,’ said Dod­son. ‘It is not easy to put it down some­where else. You have got to un­der­stand that broad­cast­ers have other things that they have paid for and have on their sched­ule. If you move it, maybe you clash with the Tour de France, Roland Gar­ros or Wim­ble­don or cricket or the Eu­ros. You may gain on gate re­ceipts but you will lose on broad­cast­ing. My in­stinct is that the Six Na­tions will stay where it is.’ SRU in­terim chair­man John Jef­frey called on the rugby com­mu­nity to pull to­gether and help the sport at such a cru­cial time. His com­ments came af­ter clubs voted at their AGM on Thurs­day evening for more trans­parency in the SRU’s de­ci­sion-mak­ing process in­volv­ing se­nior ex­ec­u­tives such as Dod­son. ‘Be­fore we got into Covid, the ac­counts looked re­ally good,’ said 1990 Grand Slam leg­end Jef­frey. ‘The union is in a good po­si­tion on and off the pitch. I gen­uinely see we have a chance to re­group.’

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