Nicola Sturgeon raises hopes of 500 cap on crowds at rugby and football matches being lifted this month

Fears that this week’s blanket call-offs of rugby games in the Borders in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus could be presaging another shutdown of the sport like the one in force from March 2020 until September last year – or even just an extension of the current 500 cap on crowds – have been allayed by Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon.

First minister Nicola Sturgeon giving a Covid-19 update to the Scottish Parliament today (Photo: Scottish Government)
First minister Nicola Sturgeon giving a Covid-19 update to the Scottish Parliament today (Photo: Scottish Government)

That 500 cap, introduced on Boxing Day, will continue until at least Sunday, January 16, Sturgeon confirmed at a Covid-19 briefing in Edinburgh today, January 5, but she says she’s hopeful that crowd restrictions affecting Scottish sport can be eased after that.

The cap will be reviewed next week and the 51-year-old did not rule out lifting it altogether on January 17 after three weeks in force.

In the meantime, she said, talks are ongoing with the Scottish Rugby Union ahead of the start of Scotland’s 2022 Six Nations campaign against England at Edinburgh’s Murrayfield Stadium on Saturday, February 5.

Asked if rugby or football supporters could feel confident about buying tickets for upcoming matches, she said: “There are many things 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. I don't say that to be facetious.

“It is really difficult, particularly at this stage of a wave of the virus, to be certain about the future. That’s why we need to monitor things on a closer-time basis.

“We have right throughout had very good discussions with the SRU about matches at Murrayfield.

“They have been very constructive at working with us to enable games to go ahead.

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

“I hope very much we won't have to go beyond January 17 with these restrictions.

“All of us, including myself, want to be able to cheer Scotland on at Murrayfield 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.

“We will continue to use the data and the evidence and reach judgments to get that clarity as soon as possible.

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

Sturgeon added that an extra £5m in funding for sport in Scotland will be handed out “where it is needed most” to mitigate the the financial impact of the current restrictions.

“We are working with Sportscotland and, as quickly as possible, with, for example, ice hockey and basketball clubs, as well as football, rugby and horse-racing to determine fully the financial impact the current measures are having.

“Following that, we will then get the money to clubs as quickly as possible.

“For some sports, there will be the ability to recoup these losses as events start to be rescheduled, hopefully in the not-too-distant future, but for others that will be more difficult, so we need to make sure we get the money where it is needed most.”

Jed-Forest and Selkirk have called off their Tennent’s Premiership games against Marr and Glasgow Hutchesons’ Aloysians respectively this Saturday, but Hawick’s match at Glasgow Hawks, kicking off at Balgray Stadium at 2pm, is going ahead, according to club officials.

In Tennent’s National League Division 1, Melrose’s home game against Watsonians and Kelso’s trip to Stirling Wolves are off, as is Gala’s match against table-topping Heriot’s Blues and Peebles’ Tennent’s National League Division 2 game versus Preston Lodge.

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