The GAA’s plans to resume Gaelic games activity via the clubs has been thrown into doubt by a survey revealing less than 58% of players are willing to return to training and games this year.
The poll, which was conducted by the Club Players Association (CPA) and involved over 3,000 respondents, found that almost 22% of club footballers and hurlers have ruled out playing this season.
With over a quarter of players reporting that they live with a person aged 70 or over, the number of players uncertain about their future is understandable as they wouldn’t want to put their family in danger.
The CPA survey also reported less than 61% of club players would attend a club game as a spectator in 2020 and just 33.95% of them would do the same for an inter-county fixture.
However, it’s the low percentage of players putting themselves forward to line out again this year that is the eye-catching figure.
“Club players are at the centre of the return to play conversation,” said CPA chairman Micheál Briody, who told the Irish Examiner last week that club players feared being used as “guinea pigs”. “The survey results indicate that a significant number of club players believe that until games are safe, they do not want to play. It presents a challenge for the future of the GAA but one we feel that as a community of players and members we can face and surmount together.”
A total of 3,008 respondents completed the survey deeming the sample representative, with 21% of them uncertain as to whether they would put themselves forward to train or play this season. Just 64% of them stated they would train or play if there was temperature checking in place.
In a statement, Briody praised the efforts of the GAA thus far in reacting to the crisis. “There has been a phenomenal voluntary effort at club level to assist elderly and vulnerable people in the fight against Covid-19. The GAA as an association has shown real leadership. It is further evidence of the importance of the grassroots GAA to the fabric of Irish society and further highlights the need for the games to be more community centric going forward.
All sporting bodies are faced with the unenviable task of determining when it is safe for their games to resume in light of the Covid-19 pandemic shut down. The GAA as an amateur body, probably has a more difficult task than most because their players all work or study so it is not possible to bubble wrap them between games. Those players will return to families, workplaces, schools or colleges and the task of contact tracing becomes more difficult.
Briody also acknowledged the establishment of a Covid-19 return to play committee, which convened for the first time yesterday. However, he stressed there should have been specific club player representation on the body.
“We are pleased that Croke Park has formed a Covid-19 Advisory Group. It is disappointing that there is no direct advocate for the club playing population but it is very positive to see four doctors on the Group. It should be the advice of the medical experts that trump any other stakeholder in the room.
“We have sent a copy of the survey results yesterday to Ard Stiúrthóir Tom Ryan so he could pass it onto the Covid-19 Advisory Group. We have also indicated to him that we will make available our database of members to the Advisory Group should they wish to survey or communicate with club players on any point in their deliberations.
“The importance of the GAA’s role in every community around Ireland was highlighted by the extent of voluntary initiatives organized by clubs to assist people in need of help during the pandemic. This further brings to focus the need of the GAA to remember the grassroots of the organisation as they grapple with restructuring the fixtures calendar for 2021.”
The reluctance among club players to play again this year will be a considerable hurdle for the GAA’s hopes of resuming action with club activity. Although GAA president John Horan raised further concern about returning to any games while social distancing was in place, he reiterated on Sunday that the GAA intended to restart with clubs.
He said: "We're quite comfortable to say that we're going to go with the club game first for the very good reason that it impacts on a greater number of people. 98% of our games are club games. If we play club games, that's inclusive of everybody because the county players would get the opportunity to play with their clubs. I think that would be an important impact across the whole of Irish society. Then we can make the decision to resume with the county game."
CPA survey: Key findings
- When asked if they would return to training or playing with your club in 2020, 57.65% (1,733 respondents) said yes, 21.92% (659) said no, while another 21.22% (638) didn’t know.
- 60.82% (1,827) of respondents said they would attend a club game this year.
- 33.95% (1,020) said they would attend inter-county matches with over 50% (1,513) stating they wouldn’t.
- Queried if they would train or play if every player and official was temperature checked before each training session and game, 63.77% (1,917) said they would.
- 21.56% (648) said they wouldn’t and less than 21% insisted they would not play if every player and official had to wear a mask during a game.