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GAA chiefs frustrated by Leo Varadkar's false hope of a swift return

 

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In limbo: Tyrone ace Darren McCurry in action against Meath

In limbo: Tyrone ace Darren McCurry in action against Meath

�INPHO/Evan Logan

Leo Varadkar with GAA Director-General Tom Ryan

Leo Varadkar with GAA Director-General Tom Ryan

�INPHO/Tommy Dickson

In limbo: Tyrone ace Darren McCurry in action against Meath

The GAA's senior figures are set to meet today to work out an appropriate response to the latest announcement by the Irish government that Gaelic games could be poised for a return in late summer.

 

This represents the third time in a fortnight that Fine Gael members have publicly discussed how and when the GAA could begin to host their games, each opinion being greeted with bemusement by the sport's officials.

That bemusement has developed into frustration as there is a sense that false hope is being stirred among the playing population.

Despite the robust response from GAA president John Horan last Monday on the Sean O'Rourke radio show on RTÉ, the appearance of Leo Varadkar on Friday night's 'Late Late Show' when he outlined the plans to lift restrictions has only increased pressure on the GAA.

It then gets exceptionally tricky with the strong rumours that there may be the early stages of planning for another general election in the Republic of Ireland, with positive announcements sure to bring support towards a political party.

Under government plans, it is proposed that under phase four, "sports team leagues (e.g. soccer and GAA)" would be allowed, "but only where limitations are placed on the numbers of spectators and where social distancing can be maintained".

During his television appearance, Varadkar said: "I suppose there is a possibility of an All-Ireland this year."

Pushed further by host Ryan Tubridy, Varadkar added: "Obviously that is a matter for the GAA. Not with spectators but it could be done. I think it's possible."

Where the schism of opinion differs is with social distancing. Varadkar's comments and demeanour seemed to be almost confused, and the message conveyed that. Social distancing is certainly achievable among a crowd if attendances are restricted, although this will have its challenges.

However, there are no means by which social distancing can be practiced in a contact sport. This was at the heart of Horan's comments when he said: "Our players are amateur athletes and they go back to their families and work place and we can't put them or anyone they come into contact with at risk just for the sake of playing games.

"We won't be making any rushed decision on this.

"We've always taken our guidance from the health authorities and we'll continue to do that and until they declare that contact sport is safe, we won't be playing games.

"If and when we do return, the club scene will be our priority because 98% of our activity happens at club level and that includes our inter-county."

Some clarity over the issue has come from a representative of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), who state that a return to team sports is unlikely until a vaccine is discovered.

Dr Cillian de Gascun has stated: "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.

"It comes back to having a better picture of how many people have been infected and how severe the disease has been.

"Part of the paradox of what we are doing at the moment is that we are controlling the epidemic quite well, but the downside of that is people are not necessarily being infected; even the healthy people who are not going to get a severe illness are not being infected to a great degree either and that's when we come to a situation where only a small proportion of the population has any sort of immunity.

"We do think people will have some level of immunity but that is an unanswered question at this point.

"I think team sports are going to be in a very difficult position. Even with testing you can do it daily but all that tells you is you are negative at that point in time and then there is a 24-hour window to interact with other people.

"Professional clubs can certainly mitigate risk. Physios can wear personal protective equipment. Without the physical distancing... I don't see it as something we would recommend. It may not be prohibited or banned but I don't think it could be recommended on public health grounds purely because you are never going to get to zero risk.

"Team sports behind closed doors is probably the first step. At some point we have to take some calculated risks because we all know we can't stay in our current situation forever."

Amen to that.

Belfast Telegraph