Nicola Sturgeon hopeful that Six Nations matches can go ahead with crowds

Attendance at outdoor events in Scotland will be restricted to 500 until at least 17th January

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she hopes Murrayfield will have full houses during the Six Nations. Image: © Craig Watson
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she hopes Murrayfield will have full houses during the Six Nations. Image: © Craig Watson

SCOTLAND’S First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, says that she is hopeful that crowds will be permitted at Murrayfield during the Six Nations, which kicks-off on 5th February when England will provide the opposition at the national stadium. But she insisted that she is not currently in a position to make any promises on that during a critical stage in the battle against the spread of the Omicron strain of the Covid virus across the UK.

A cap of 500 on attendances at outdoor events is currently in place but will be reviewed next week, with sports fans hopeful of a relaxation in the rule on 17th January.

“There is many things that I really wish I had over the course of this pandemic and one of them is a crystal ball to be able to see into the future with certainty,” she said, when asked about giving clarity about the prospect of crowds being permitted to return for the England game. “It is really difficult at this stage of a phase of a virus to be certain about the future, that’s why we need to monitor things on a closer-time basis.

“But we have, right throughout, had very good discussions with the SRU about matches at Murrayfield. They have been very, very constructive at working with us to enable games to go ahead.


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“I know how important clarity is for those who cater for big sporting events, not least matches at Murrayfield, so that is very much in our mind as we make decisions.

“I hope very much that we won’t have to go beyond the 17th January with these restrictions. All of us, including myself, want to be able to cheer Scotland on in the Six Nations, but I don’t do anybody any good if I try to give certainty ahead of our ability to do that.

”But we will continue to use the data, use the evidence, and reach the judgements that get that clarity and certainty as quickly as possible.

“And I certainly do very firmly hope that these matches will go ahead and will go ahead to crowds of supporters.”

Sturgeon was speaking during her update to the Scottish Parliament this afternoon, and was not responding to speculation from south of the Border about the game being moved to Newcastle United’s St James Park in order to ensure a full-house.

England do not have any crowd restrictions, so moving the game to Newcastle looks like an obvious option on a purely sporting level.

“The possibility must surely be explored,” said former Scotland and Lions head coach Ian McGeechan in The Daily Telegraph. “As a player, given the choice of playing in an empty stadium at Murrayfield or a full house of Scots just over the border, I know which I’d have chosen.

“For Scotland and Wales the possibility of playing at St James’ Park or the Ricoh Arena or some other venue would surely be preferable both from a sporting and a financial perspective?

“And there are currently no legal restrictions preventing fans from crossing the border.”

Exeter Chiefs’ Director of Rugby Rob Baxter weighed in when he said: “For the national bodies, their responsibility goes beyond the professional sport.

“It goes right down to grassroots rugby, so if playing the tournament provides a level of income that cancelling it or no crowds doesn’t create, then we’ve got to look at the next best scenario.”

However, such a move to side-step Covid regulations in this county would undoubtedly infuriate the Scottish Government, who allocated a £20m support package to Murrayfield earlier in the pandemic, and who have indicated that rugby is in line for a share of a further £5m package for sport which was announced by Sturgeon today.

Scottish Rugby has been at pains to position itself as leading the way in terms of following and promoting Covid measures and the Newcastle switch would undermine this.

Another issue is that the Scotland versus England match is already a 67,000 sell-out, while St James’ Park has a capacity of 52,000, so allocating tickets would be a logistical nightmare.


Updated: Clubs given option to postpone this weekend’s matches

 

About David Barnes 2756 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

31 Comments

    • that and people who seem to think they know better than public health experts, scientists and clinicians, better than anyone with expertise and access to a full barrowload of data. People who won’t be blamed when the NHS struggles or people die of covid or just because they cannot get an ambulance

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  1. She is a typical stupid politician who has no idea what she is talking about from a scientific point of view. She is advised by fanatics like Devi Sridhar, who has frequently been shown to talk nonsense.
    Omicron appears to be mild, and evidence published yesterday shows that catching Omicron appears to also give you significant protection against Delta which would be a very good thing.
    Sturgeon like all pollies, is only interested in re-election. This may well rebound on her

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    • You appear to have your finger on all relevant pulses, John – or is it just that you don’t like powerful, successful women, scientists, senior politicians or acknowledged experts in global public health?

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      • Power hunger more like, the snp have a massive list of failures, just do the research, all they can focus on is COVID restrictions and independence, Odin help us all if they actually achieve it n we have to live under the totalitarian ssnp rule for the rest of her life! And what about all the credible experts who have been silenced, censored or just banished as a kook all for questioning the narrative, providing alternative advice and not being another blind sheep? Lot of folk on a high horse on this comment section.

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      • Is it that you only acknowledge “experts” who confirm your own bias? As for “success”, you might benefit from revisiting the definition.

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      • he hasn’t got his finger on any pulses. Certainly not the hundreds who are still dying daily, mainly in places with fewer mitigations in place

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  2. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have some normality and let grown-ups decide for themselves. Football crowds down south aren’t superspreaders, so why would a rugby crowd in Edinburgh be a problem? Whatever the decision, it can’t be whimsical and it can’t be at the last minute.

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  3. I think the SRU need to remember that they received £20 million from the public purse not so long ago. McGeechan et Al should be ashamed of themselves for this kind of sabre rattling. Exeter Chiefs are a prime example of “f**k everyone else and have been so consistently for a number of years pre-Covid. Its simply not required.

    The limit, regardless of the number, was put in place to control the spread and not overwhelm the frontline services over the holiday period. They are badly stretched due to a number of pressures that were created by policy, lack of funding, Covid, and mismanagement by middle management. It was not, as has been suggested by some, because the Scottish government are “killjoys” or “anti-sport”.

    People first….sport comes a very distant second.

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    • The SRU is a business and the 6N/internationals are most of their biggest earners. They should be looking at contingencies even if just to rule them out.

      It took a long time to get out of debt and paying for Murrayfield etc. And any sensible business would look what mitigations and contingencies to limit the financial hit and review how plausible they are.

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      • Everything is a business. Its a poor reason not to protect the population.

        The debt structure was the fault of the SRU. Nobody else. Another poor reason not to keep people safe. They built a shrine to themselves that was way too big, and committed to way too much of a debt burden.

        We talk about a “rugby community” yet as soon as the possibility of earning an extra schilling is dangled then morals go out the window. Its sickening to watch and can be connected to every stupid act committed over the last 30 years by the SRU.

        But I suppose principle and morals are odd bedfellows in todays sporting world.

  4. The top flight football clubs have been told to prepare for crowds being able to return to ground when the winter shutdown ends on the 17th. Based on that, it’s safe to say Murrayfield will be allowed a healthy attendance for the Englandshire game.

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    • The Times had an article on Tuesday saying that the SPFL would be ramping up its lobbying to increase crowds.

      “ Those at the top of the game’s governing bodies will take the temperature from civil servants and, if there is a sense that the existing limits will be extended, there will be a push for a significant increase on what they see as the arbitrary figure of 500, to several thousand or even one-third or a half of a stadium’s normal capacity, if risk assessments deem that suitable.”

      As yesterdays Sun headline “predicting” that isolation would move to 7 days ie they were briefed, it looks like sports bodies are getting positive signals from govt of a shift in policy.

      Thank goodness!

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  5. If they seriously are going to do this they can have my debenture, Six Nation tickets and Edinburgh season ticket and I will never cross the threshold of Murrayfield again. Like many I have loyally supported Scottish rugby by’donating balance on season tickets , by membership of weird made-up clubs (effectively another donation) and this is the way they repay this loyalty. Why would you possibly consider giving home advantage up for the most important game of each season?
    If they seriously do this why don’t they tell Glasgow to play all ‘home’ 1872 games as well as major European games at Murrayfield if the money is the only thing that matters? .
    And we still have the madness of possibly playing the 1872 on Six Nations weekends. By definition the team with the best players will loose the most players and hence nullify their advantage. Seems very similar to how the FIA fixed the F1 championship and look at the mess that has caused.

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    • Home advantage at an empty stadium didn’t really do much last 6N.

      Taking aside the political furore that would happen, sport is meant to be viewed by crowds. It wouldn’t hurt ST holders who wouldn’t be allowed into the stadium anyway.

      The SRU needs money, the pro teams need money, the grass roots need money etc. It is no surprise any business is looking at ways even at a high level to limit what would be a high 7 figure loss of revenue. Or to have it leaked they were considering it, even if they weren’t to try, and get more back in at Murrayfield.

  6. If the SRU want the games to go ahead at Murrayfield, they should get a friendly person in the Newcastle United comms team to say something like “we are exploring the issue with local stakeholders”. As soon as the SG gets wind of it, I’d expect any limit to go for fear of embarrassment.

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  7. This is good news as far as it goes. There is no “science” on the 500 spectator number as Jason Leitch has admitted.

    Though I get a nagging feeling it might be 50% capacity.

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    • The 500 figure is finger in the air stuff based on them having to draw a line in the sand somewhere. Outdoor crowds are 50% in Italy from the 10th of January. That could give you a scenario where we had Scots fans in Rome but none at Murrayfield.

      • he is in his current position as an expert on public health, for which he is eminently well qualified. People who fulfil such roles anywhere are typically from backgrounds as doctors or dentists, and both have typically studied a fair old bit of science both as part of their basic degrees and post graduate stuff

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      • I would rather have a clinician giving me clinical advice than a scientist. Professor Leitch has been a magnificent communicator during the last couple of years.

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      • The point is about restrictions imposed upon attendance at sports and other events.

        Of course, unlike the noisiest proles sounding off on here, we can’t all be barrack-room experts, or indeed highly qualified in certain sciences of questionable relevance to the aforementioned point.

        In this connection, those banging on about the admittedly commendable merits of dentists, clinicians and proficient media communicators in the realm of public health might be better off contemplating the more specific relevance to the issue in question (crowd behaviour and risk of infection) of 1. epidemiologists and 2. experts in behavioural science.

        (I declare an interest, on the grounds of possessing a science qualification….)

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      • very good Ron. Who do you think advises the Public Health experts? The answer is many , from many fields including epidemiologists and behavioural science; and all have learned from earlier virus surges.
        I also speak as someone with a science qualification and regular contact with real experts working live in this mess

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      • t’was you Mr Sutherland who has cast doubts on the qualifications of our “communicators” and on who they take advice from. You with your old and not very relevant “Science Qualification”

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      • Best that you stop digging, Septic 9. You might never get out of the hole!

        Sorry to note your missing “+”, incidentally.

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      • I’m not in the hole Mr Sutherland, you are. You belittled a renowned and respected and eminently qualified public health expert and implied he did not take advice from expertise in related and relevant fields. Only a fool would do that – and then claim some scientific expertise to justify these comments – expertise which they clearly do not possess.
        Is your middle name Trump by any chance?

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      • When you eventually cease digging, perpetrating nonsense and falsely attributing statements or motives to strangers, you’d do extremely well to take a dope test.

        A dope test to be taken from behind both of your noms de plume, Septic+9 / Septic 9 – clearly signifying an intellectual inferior, the cowardice of a monumentally ignorant keyboard warrior and a total twat to boot.

        There’s a good chap! It’s been a fun conversation.

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      • what have I falsely attributed? Your words are there for all to see. A charlatan who hasn’t the guts to own up to his own rubbish.
        The ignorance and the arrogance is all yours and your Trump like bluster can’t hide it

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