Some club GAA players fear they will be the guinea pigs if sport is to restart as outlined in the Government’s plan to reopen the country, says Club Players Association chairman Micheál Briody.
Stage four of the plan proposes that team sports such as soccer and GAA could resume from July 20, as long as limitations are placed on the numbers of spectators and social distancing can be maintained.
Close physical contact sports such as rugby, boxing and wrestling would be allowed from August 10.
But virologist Dr Cillian de Gascún, part of the National Public Health Emergency Team, has since told the Irish Times that team sports “are going to be in a very difficult position”.
“I don’t see it being something we could recommend from a public health perspective without social distancing, and assuming we are not going to have an anti-viral therapy or a vaccine for 12 to 18 months, it is difficult to recommend,” said Dr de Gascún.
Speaking on the Irish Examiner Sports podcast, Briody says the confusion has left some players fearful.
“The overriding emotion we got this weekend is fear of being used as guinea pigs. I don’t think the GAA are doing it, but I think maybe it was misinterpreted from the Taoiseach’s announcement, that GAA will go back before rugby, and at club level.
“The conversation has always been around the attendees at the games. That they’ll sort social distancing for the crowd, but who are the guinea pigs, the club players? That has to be sorted out and thought about. We have got to consult with the medical professionals and see what is a reasonable risk and take the decision on a risk assessment basis.
“The nature of the game is it’s up close and personal. You can incorporate social distancing in a dressing room. But you cannot do it when the referee blows the whistle.”
And Briody fears there could be insurance and legal repercussions if a player becomes infected.
“It’s not just about the players here. The players generally speaking wouldn’t be in a vulnerable category. But if they happen to contract Covid on the field of play and pass it on to a vulnerable or elderly person and they become critically ill or pass away, then potentially you have an insurance issue. Is it possible here that the GAA or any sporting organisation could be sued because they didn’t take the duty of care they owe to their members?”
Briody feels a decision should be made in the next six weeks about whether GAA should be played this year.
“There may be merit in looking at the practicalities in Croke Park soon and saying look, scratch 2020. Because with all the uncertainty you’re going to have intercounty and club players just dangling on. At some stage, I appreciate not yet, but at some stage in the next, I would say, six weeks, that call needs to be made.
“If I was Tom Ryan or John Horan I would be making contact with Tony Holohan and saying, if we are to go back, what are you going to expect of us? What are we going to have to do from a playing point of view? And if we think it’s going to compromise our games and if there have to be any changes, then Croke Park and Central Council are going to have to decide what's best for the games. And if that’s not to have any games at all, I think (decide) sooner rather than later.
“We’re going to poll our members in the next week or two and ask what are they prepared to do. What’s your fears, who wants to play and who doesn't? And I think the GPA should do something similar. If the players aren’t safe and if they aren’t prepared to play, the sooner we know that the better.”