Is our rush to return to GAA action a risk worth taking?

The irony is that an organisation which was front and centre in aiding communities through the lockdown has the potential to revive the virus
Is our rush to return to GAA action a risk worth taking?
DESTINATION UNKNOWN: Concerns are mounting over the return of GAA clubs to competitive action. PHOTO: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE

In the end it took someone at the coalface of GAA activity to reduce the debate about games and participation to first principles.

You may have seen the comments from Glanworth GAA chairman Liam Brennan in yesterday’s Irish Examiner. Speaking to Eoghan Cormican of this parish, Brennan sketched out the facts behind a positive covid result in the club. He pointed out that the player in question had travelled down from Dublin but hadn’t togged out with the team because he felt unwell, thus limiting his contacts within the club.

But Brennan then put his cards on the table, saying: “Personally, I think it is going to take - touch wood it won't happen - a death from GAA-related activity for the GAA to act on it.

“I don't want us to be the guinea pigs, to be the cause of a local death.” 

The Glanworth chairman deserves huge credit for summing up the dilemma so succinctly. All over the country club officers and players are weighing up their return to play, and one can’t help thinking that Brennan’s argument is the exact shape of the shadow being cast over those deliberations.

Is a medal and a few matches worth a single death in the community?

Everyone would appreciate the normality that a return to regular games would signal, but serious questions remain about exactly how authentic that normality might be.

Even the surrounding blizzard of commentary has an accompanying note of desperation. There’s been no shortage of analysis of club fixture planning versus county training schedules, lead-in times and venues for the provincial championships and the precise nature of injuries sustained with the club or the county team; most if not all of it seems fuelled by a powerful nostalgia for the trivia of yesteryear (and I say so having contributed my fair share to the blizzard).

The irony which no-one seems to want to articulate is that an organisation which was front and centre in aiding communities through the lockdown has the potential to revive the virus.

Depending on your perspective, the GAA’s return to competitive games may not be the most pressing threat to the country’s health at present. We seem to be hearing a lot about flights arriving in Ireland from the dark heart of the virus in the United States, as though planeloads of American tourists were parachuting in a la the Normandy landings, all of them doing their best to share their symptoms with a populace looking up fearfully as they descend.

What seems far more threatening is a mass explosion in people moving all over Ireland to go to GAA games.

We’re constantly being told - still - to wear masks, to maintain social distancing and to continue washing our hands, yet the resumption of the GAA season means close contact between thousands of people who will then break up and head back to the remotest corners of the country - and the most central.

This ramps up to the intercounty level at almost exactly the same time that the schools and colleges are due to return. Nobody knows what form that will take but it will surely mean more contacts again.

The difference is that returning to education is non-negotiable while playing sports is an optional pastime.

Everyone would like a risk-free return to sport, but the evidence from Cork alone of clubs freezing their activity and waiting on test results shows - just in sporting terms - the potential for chaos in the organisation of competitions. 

If clubs need to shut down for two weeks at a time with no serious games being played, what are the chances of entire championships being completed with every team participating fully?

The other question is whether there’s a benefit in playing sport at all in those circumstances, and whether participants are being well served by doing so.

Liam Brennan of Glanworth addressed that, too: “When the players are going out with some bit of fear in their minds, it’s not enjoyment. It’s not sport.

“Mental health has been a big thing the last couple of years and so you don't want to be adding to that by putting pressure on lads to turn up if they don't feel they want to be there.

“The GAA will always be there next year.” 

True. Would a full 2021 be better than a hobbled 2020? 


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