Police probe after GAA pitch invasion

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A pitch invasion followed the game.

by PA Media

Police have begun an investigation into a pitch invasion at a GAA club final in Co Tyrone over potential breaches in Covid-19 regulations.

Jubilant crowds raced onto the field at Omagh’s Healy Park following Dungannon Clarkes’ victory over Trillick in the Tyrone football final.

Dungannon became Tyrone football champions on Sunday for the first time in 64 years after securing victory in a penalty shootout.

The PSNI said it is examining any potential breaches of public health measures at the event.

Chief Superintendent Ryan Henderson said: “We are aware of an incident at a GAA match in Omagh yesterday and will be reviewing all available evidence to determine any potential breach of the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) Regulations NI 2020 or breach of any other statute identified in respect of any individual.”

The First Minister expressed deep concern at the pitch invasion.

It has prompted concerns about social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, Arlene Foster said.

Ulster GAA has a section of its website dedicated to keeping people safe during the pandemic.

That includes encouragement to download the Covid-19 tracker phone app.

A special Covid-19 advisory group was established within the GAA to inform the safe resumption of activities.

Mrs Foster added: “Deeply concerned about the images from yesterday’s GAA match.”

Health minster Robin Swann described the scenes as “disappointing”.

But he credited the GAA for developing Covid-19 return-to-play guidance – along with rugby and soccer authorities – and said the events in Omagh were not in keeping with what the organisation was trying to achieve.

Health Minister Robin Swann

“The three sporting codes came up sets of individual guidance and laws and regulations that their own sports and disciplinary procedures could take forward,” he said.

“On sight of what we’ve actually seen and what was actually produced widely across social media I don’t think that in any way is in keeping with what those sporting codes and those bodies would expect of some of their players and definitely not of their supporters.

“This virus does not respect any sporting definition, any game, any team. So when I saw that sort of large scale…breaches of social distancing regulations it does concern me and I think…there’s no winners when we see that sort of outpouring on social media and across media.”

In a statement, a spokesman for Ulster GAA said the scenes on Sunday night cannot be repeated, otherwise it risks returning to games being played behind closed doors.

The sports organisation said it is “strongly reiterating” the message that no spectators should enter the field of playing following games.

“The on-pitch celebration scenes following the Tyrone county final in Omagh not only breached GAA protocols but, and much more significantly, public health guidelines,” the statement said.

“Ulster GAA fully realises that this was a moment of great joy for the Dungannon Clarkes club in winning their first county title since 1956 and congratulations to them on this success.

“The dramatic nature of the conclusion of the game probably added to the exuberance but we are living in a pandemic and the post-match scenes did not portray the association in a positive light.”

It added: “The GAA has acted in a positive manner since the outbreak of the pandemic, with attendances at games strictly regulated.

“Our supporters have responded positively and responsibly but last night’s scenes undoubtedly placed GAA members and their local community at greater risk to Covid 19.

“It also potentially undermines the GAA case, and indeed the case for wider sport, to be permitted to have increased numbers attend our games.” Earlier this summer Ulster GAA set limits on the number of spectators attending events.

Supporters were strongly advised to wear face coverings at games and bring their own hand sanitiser.

A spokesperson for the Department for Communities said: “At the beginning of August the Executive announced that some spectators can attend organised outdoor sports fixtures or events.

“The department issued guidance to assist sports governing bodies, clubs and venue operators comply with the regulations, which provided guiding principles surrounding the safe return of limited spectators at outdoor sports events.

“It included details on how spectators should follow the guidance and highlighted the required behaviour of spectators attending the events to help reduce the possible spread of Covid.”

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