Ruby Walsh: Testing key to recovery in sport and society

Ruby Walsh: Testing key to recovery in sport and society
A jockey wearing a protective mask races on May 7, 2020 in Hanover, western Germany, during the first race meeting in Germany during the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Pic: Ronny Hartmann / AFP

The mantra from the World Health Organisation has been: ‘test, test, test’.

I have read so many comments and looked through so much content about the resumption of horse racing, and sport, that I almost feel I am back at square one in the process of understanding how, who or what will resume activity in the coming weeks.

We all read the government roadmap for the easing of restrictions, pinpointed dates whereby, if positive cases from testing for Covid-19 kept declining, we could see things happening.

My personal reading of the roadmap revealed a pretty stark reality for horse racing and, from working on a sports radio show, I felt I had a general overview on whom or what sports wished to play ASAP and which sports considered ‘behind closed doors’ action an option.

Horse racing does not come under the banner of sport or tourism as it under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture, but a race meeting is an event.

I read the line “sporting activities and events can resume behind closed doors, where arrangements are in place to enable participants to maintain social distancing” to absolutely mean horse racing, as the word “are“ would have been replaced by “can be put” if this line was for anyone who had not already tried their activity or event behind closed doors.

Add in the mention of marts being reopened in phase two of the plan and then check that the enforced closure of marts came five days after racing closed down, and the reopening phase, from a racing point of view, started to become clear.

I took the lack of clarity or a statement from HRI in the following days to be a good thing. Racing people can see where it is on the government roadmap.

Okay, it’s not specifically named but the reality is horse racing is not as big as GAA or rugby, so no news was good news and the longer I waited for HRI to comment the more progress I hoped they might be making with the Department of Agriculture in at least lining up racing with the reopening of marts on June 8.

Who knows, that still may happen, but for it to happen in the eyes of NPHET a lot more testing must take place - and not just of people within horse racing.

Dr Cillian De Gascun explained the way forward, in as clear a manner as I have read, for society and sport, in last Saturday’s Irish times. NPHET want the results of a seroprevalence study so they can have confidence in the decisions they make regarding the release of restrictions.

They won’t have the results of this study until June because the capacity for testing hasn’t been sufficient.

In simple English, I understand that to mean that NPHET want a big portion of society tested so they can get a percentage of how people on this island have been infected and can therefore determine the percentage of people still at risk.

Hence, phase one of the plan is all outdoor, and is only a very slight easing of restrictions.

I have dealt with many doctors in my life and have come to understand they don’t give opinion lightly. They give you their understanding of the factual evidence as presented to them in an informed way.

If they have been in any doubt, they will have asked the thoughts of a colleague before they tell you. The only way they change their mind is if the facts change. Pressure or opinions won’t sway them.

Scientists and doctors don’t give opinions for the sake of a debate to have them changed. The debating is done first.

Golf courses will open on May 18, not competition play, just friends or fellow members playing at a social distance in groups 15 mins apart. Racing was hoping to be in that group but allowing necessary numbers to travel the distances required is still an issue.

Germany resumed racing Thursday, and France will do so Monday. Why are we so far behind? Testing, testing, testing!

The World Health Organisation said it all along and if we want to move as a country, to change the facts NPHET are being presented with in a quicker fashion, we need to demand more testing.

Tests cost money but a stagnant economy is costing more, so getting the required info for those in charge to assess the risk and loosen the shackles is now the priority. Those who want to get going need to show how.

We were led into shutdown, now lead us out.

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