Soldiers primed for Chad combat... but contact sports get marching orders

CHAD may rank among the most hostile missions Irish troops have ever embarked on, but it is no place for soccer or volleyball.

Despite the soldiers’ extreme training at Camp Ciara in order to prepare for combat situations, the defence forces have decided contact sports are a step too far.

Defence Minister Willie O’Dea said the decision was made for health and safety reasons. “The reality in Chad is that the ground is extremely hard. Some of the sports are played out on open ground and when people fall, it tends to have a much greater impact on their bodies than falling in a field in Ireland, where the ground is not nearly as hard,” he told the Dáil.

Labour’s Brian O’Shea said the troops had lost a good way to let off steam.

But he was told an assessment found the risk of a soldier being sent home with a sports injury was too great.

The minister said he could not dictate which sports were allowed while safely ensconced in Dublin.

Fine Gael’s spokesman, Jimmy Deenihan, had reservations on the choice of games. “Volleyball is not a physical contact sport.”

Mr O’Dea said while soccer, volleyball and other physical sports on the solid Chad sod were dangerous, there was wriggle room once contact was avoided.

“While rugby probably is not allowed, as it is a very physical game, football kickabouts are allowed,” he said, adding: “Personnel can engage in running.”

* Irish troops in Chad flanked dozens of evacuated aid workers after reports of rebel movements.

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