Louth County Board chairman and Independent TD Peter Fitzpatrick has said there is “no reason” why GAA pitches cannot immediately reopen.
The former Louth football manager has called on Croke Park to row back on its decision to keep pitches shut until July 20.
By keeping the locks up, Fitzpatrick believes the GAA is “missing an opportunity” as allowing people onto their local field would greatly improve community wellbeing.
GAA director general Tom Ryan yesterday acknowledged the importance of reopening club grounds but did not specify if Croke Park’s slated date of July 20 would be brought forward.
Ryan said the association’s Covid-19 advisory group was in the process of drawing up a roadmap to enable the GAA reopen its facilities in a “safe” and “controlled” manner.
Had the GAA followed the Government blueprint for exiting the lockdown, pitches would have been made accessible to the public from last Monday week, May 18. Instead, the association has ordered their continued closure for another seven and a half weeks.
“GAA clubs are part of communities all around the country, so in almost every case they are more than just football and hurling pitches. The committee rooms are used by all manner of organisations and friends of the association. Pitches are used by people for all manner of things, be it going for a walk or going for a puck around. It is important we get back to using our facilities for those purposes, but it has to be done in a controlled and safe way,” Ryan insisted.
“The overriding thing all the time is safety. It has to be done in a safe way. That [advisory] group is going to help us with regard to how we might tackle that and embark upon that. That very, very definitely will be part of the little roadmap that we'll map out for the association and for clubs over the course of the next few weeks.”
Fitzpatrick stressed the mental health benefits to people cooped up in city apartments that would be brought about by a reopening of pitches.
“There are kids living in apartment blocks with no front garden, no back garden; nowhere really to go. It would be absolutely fantastic if the local GAA club opened up their facilities for children to play in,” the Independent TD remarked.
“To be honest, I personally don't see any reason why GAA clubs or pitches can't be open. In fairness to GAA clubs, they will man their own field.
“I come from Dundalk and a five-kilometre radius would cover a lot of Dundalk. My club is Clan na Gael and there is no reason why any member of our club can't come to the grounds and be safe. It would mean families could take their young kids to an area that is enclosed, where they could run, play, and have a bit of freedom.
“We are wasting this opportunity because sport, in general, could actually help the public, could help people with their mental health.”
The Louth chairman believes a reduction in social distancing from two metres to the World Health Organisation recommended one metre would be a “game-changer” for society at large, but also in edging closer to a potential return to GAA games activity later in the year.
If the remainder of the season is to prove a write-off, the GAA is facing a €50 million loss of revenue this year. Fitzpatrick appreciates there will be a large number of groups seeking financial assistance from the Government to cover Covid-19 losses, but said sporting organisations must be bailed out.
“Louth is the smallest county in Ireland and yet we, as a county board, are going to lose a minimum of €160,000 this year. How are we going to get that back? We are hoping Croke Park will be able to help. An amount of clubs have contacted me to contact Croke Park because they can't afford to pay their loans. Clubs can't fundraise, how do you ask people for money at a time when so many are on social welfare. Money is very tight at the moment.
“The Government will have to do something. Sports organisations are playing a massive role in keeping this country going at the moment. I have heard from so many people in recent weeks that they never realised how important sport was, just look at the amount of work they are doing in communities at present. It is a must that the Government helps them.”