Sport has been recognised for the morale benefits it offers as the country goes into a period of extensive restrictions on movement for a period of six weeks.
Elite sport which includes professional Rugby and Soccer, as well as the Championships in Gaelic Games, and horse racing, have been given permission to operate as an exemption to the otherwise blanket ban on movement and activity imposed under Level 5 of the Government’s Living with Covid protocols.
It will still be the decision of each sporting body as to whether they do proceed and confirmation on whether that will be the case is expected today as the different bodies run the rule over what Government has said but also mindful of public opinion.
Sport for Business will update live through the day as each sporting body issues its own guidance and statements.
Rugby and Soccer
Soccer and Rugby are in an easier position with professional players and teams and relatively limited numbers of matches. Dundalk’s opening game in the Europa League will take place at Tallaght Stadium on Thursday night. The Irish Women’s National team are in action in Ukraine on Friday night, there is a round of Guinness PRO14 games this weekend and the Irish Men’s and Women’s teams get their Six Nations campaigns back up and running in Dublin on Saturday.
In Gaelic Games, the decision will not be quite so straightforward. A full fixture list of matches has been published for this weekend including the opening games in the All Ireland Hurling Championship and the final round of matches in the Allianz Football League. The Final of the Eirgrid U20 Football Championship will take place on Saturday.
A further ten games will take place in the Liberty Insurance All Ireland Camogie Championship.
In total this means 37 games taking place across the two days, almost all of them with live television coverage or streaming which is the principal reason behind staging them.
It will mean around 3,000 individual players managers and officials, as well as media, broadcasters and stewards taking to the roads and going beyond their personal 5K limit over the space of around 36 hours.
The GAA, Ladies Football and Camogie Associations will be aware of the Amárach poll carried out for RTÉ last night which showed 67 per cent of a representative audience opposed to the playing of Championships and only 24 per cent in favour, with nine per cent unsure.
The Gaelic Players Association poll of 1,695 players, taken at the end of last week when restrictions were anticipated but not yet confirmed showed 52 per cent to be in favour of playing, 24 per cent to be OK once strict protocols were in place and 24 per cent that were not in favour.
Neither of the polls are so overwhelming as to provide crystal clarity but both need to be considered.
The RTÉ poll was perhaps a surprise but is in line with the consistent numbers who were pushing for tighter restrictions. Those who said no will have been swayed by the narrative that has taken hold which seems to hold the whole association responsible for the actions of foolish but exuberant club members following county Championship finals.
Unfortunately, they gave reason for those who would oppose the GAA on any matter to give vent to their feelings on social media and in the comment sections of online publications. If you love sport you’d really want to stay away from reading them as they would chip away at the soul of the most optimistic of those among us.
The GAA’s Covid Group met last night and will do so again, as will the committees working away in soccer, rugby and most other sports.
It appears that new protocols will be put in place and that the games will proceed. These will likely include a formal requirement for players to travel to games on their own or in small social bubbles and to avoid coaches for all the obvious reasons.
Rapid testing of all players is unlikely as things stand as there is a strong difference of opinion as to how effective it is without symptoms and how much it would cost. The second reason is far less important than the first.
There will also be much thought given to the exemption for under age groups to continue to train in outdoor facilities and in pods of 15.
Schools are staying open so there is a good precedent for letting them continue to play. Teachers and essential workers will continue to go to work and so too now will many volunteer coaches.
The question that will need to be addressed is whether training will be permitted for children and coaches who would have to travel beyond their 5-kilometre radius.
Motivated by Coffins then, by Charts now
Back in March, we were told to stay at home and we did because we collectively knew how important it was. We were motivated by the searing scenes of funeral corteges of army trucks in Italy and of mass graves being dug in New York.
Now in October, the inspiration is in the form of bar charts and statistics. There are more exceptions now and if there is one thing we love its trying to find a way to get around rules without actually breaking them.
It’s in our rebellious nature and this time around the restrictions are almost as tight but not quite. There is wriggle room. If a school is 10 kilometres away then that’s grand. If the all-weather pitch is the same then is that as well?
We are looking for guidance. The Government has gone as far as it can, the sporting bodies throughout today will do their best to give us the best advice. Public opinion, stirred by emotion and headlines will be waiting in the wings watching and ready to jump.
Ultimately though we need to look within, to find our own compass of what is right and wrong. Good luck as you search for yours.
Sport for Business Partners