A decision on whether fans will be able to attend Wales’s Guinness Six Nations Championship home matches will made in the next few weeks, Mark Drakeford has said.
The restrictions placed on sporting events in Wales by the Welsh Government to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant mean professional fixtures are being played behind closed doors.
The First Minister said he hoped the waves of Omicron variant infections would decline as quickly has it has risen – meaning the Six Nations could go ahead as planned.
“That is not a matter of dispute between any party. The issue that is under the microscope is whether we can do that safely.
“Whether the number of people falling ill with the virus is so high that adding further to that risk simply would not be a responsible thing to do.
“We won’t know that, I know it’s really difficult when you’re organising a major event and you’re under the pressure of time, but we won’t know that for the next couple of weeks.
“But we will be watching that very carefully and as I said, as soon as we can make a decision, we will make a decision, but the decision will be made on the grounds of public safety and public health safety.
“In the end, that has to be the top consideration for the Government.”
Wales is currently under the Alert Level 2 restrictions, meaning only 50 people can attend organised outdoor activities, such as amateur sports, but for elite-level events spectators are banned.
Scotland are due to play Wales in Cardiff on February 12 and the Welsh RFU has been exploring alternatives, should crowds not be allowed to attend.
Wayne Pivac’s side are also scheduled to play France on March 11 at the Principality Stadium, and Italy eight days later.
In England there are currently no restrictions on attending sporting events but for those with crowds of over 10,000, spectators need to show proof of double vaccination or a negative lateral flow test.
Financial implications of behind-closed-doors home games for the Welsh Rugby Union would be significant.
They faced an identical situation for last season’s tournament, with the shutters being down for Cardiff clashes with Ireland and England.
Mr Drakeford told a Welsh Government briefing reviews of the restrictions were happening weekly.
“The decisions about where to play matches are in the end for the Welsh Rugby Union to make, not the Welsh Government to make,” Mr Drakeford said.
“I make no criticism of the WRU for exploring all the options that are available to them.
“They are a business and as a responsible business it seems to me that they are bound to look at all the different possibilities that are there in front of them.
“Whether they will choose to go ahead and play games elsewhere with the undoubted risks that that would bring, were we to be still in the eye of the storm of coronavirus, I think is you know a very debatable question.
“But whether I have any problem with them looking at the options that they have available to them, no I don’t.
“I think that it is perfectly legitimate for them as a multimillion-pound organisation that has to think of its business as well as its sporting interests.”