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Spectator ban has me in despair

GAA has gone above and beyond during Covid-19 but has got the two fingers from hapless Government

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SPORTSFILE


LET’S get one thing straight: I accept the Government is trying to curb the resurgence of Covid-19.

But the way they are going about it beggars belief.

Banning spectators from outdoor sporting events is the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I swear to God, the announcement stopped me in my tracks. I had to check the calendar because I thought it was April 1. For a second I assumed it was an April Fools’ joke.

Of course a response was needed as the number of confirmed cases rose again. But it needed to be measured, balanced and most importantly, had to be evidence-based.

The new plan announced by Taoiseach Micheál Martin on Tuesday doesn’t contain any of these characteristics.

Instead, we were presented with a plan which was vague, contradictory, and ambiguous. It defies all logic.

Ever since the outbreak of Covid-19 we have been told by all the experts that the risk of contacting the virus outdoors is significantly reduced compared to indoors.

Yet spectators at matches are banned. Where is the evidence to support the decision?

I endorse the GAA’s decision to seek a meeting with the acting Chief Medical Officer, Dr Ronan Glynn, and NPHET. They have a right to know what the empirical evidence is to back up the decision to ban spectators. My gut feeling is that it doesn’t exist.

This is what I have witnessed at the games I have attended in recent weeks.

Players arriving in dribs and drabs have driven to the venue on their own. They adhere to all the necessary precautions before and after the game.

As for the fans congregating outside grounds – it is simply not happening.

I didn’t see any American style tailgate parties in the car park or fans sipping Pimms and munching smoke salmon sandwiches like they do outside Wimbledon.

In Kerry only 80 fans were allowed into matches in the first place so we’re not dealing with a big crowd.

Most of the fans who attended games were family members who arrived in ones or twos – and once the game was over they dispersed immediately.

For example, when my own club Templenoe played in Killarney’s Fitzgerald Stadium there were 13 people standing on the full-length terrace. On big match days it can comfortably accommodate thousands.

Soaked

For those who are not familiar with the venue, it is a south-facing terrace, which means it is exposed to the prevailing winds and, when it rains, fans gets soaked.

I’m no scientist but the chances of anybody catching the virus while standing on that terrace is virtually zero.

But NPHET, in their wisdom, have decided that it’s not safe.

So now we have the truly bizarre scenario where 80 lads can congregate in a bar, eat a pizza, drink pints and watch a game on television, though it could literally be taking place across the road.

Figure that out. And while you’re at it you can explain why it is now deemed safer to play football and hurling than it is to spectate.

The decision not to re-open ‘wet’ pubs has sucked most of the life out of rural villages and pubs. At night these places are dead.

The only solace for the local community was the prospect of going to see a match. It was their escape valve and provided them with much needed mental therapy.

Streaming the matches is not the answer, particularly in many areas of rural Ireland where the broadband service is so erratic that it is impossible to watch these games.

At the outset of the crisis we all put on the green jersey. There was an all round acceptance that we were in this together.

But in recent weeks the Government have lost the people. They are no longer buying into the directives because they can plainly see that too often a sledgehammer is being used to crack a nut.

This latest Government plan indicates that the re-opening of national and post primary schools and protecting the parts of the economy keeping people’s jobs intact are now their only priorities.

I won’t dwell on the school re-opening issue because I will be returning to the topic in the coming weeks when it inevitably blows up in the Government’s faces.

Meanwhile, they had to be seen to be doing something so they simply chose some low-hanging fruit.

The elderly who have nothing to do with the current spike in numbers are, yet again, being punished while fans attending live matches also received an undeserved red card.

There are far too many grey areas and too much waffle and contradictions.

Take school transport, for example.

Less than a week before the schools re-open we’re told that social distancing rules will apply on school buses. Up until NPHET’s late intervention the Department of Education had stated that social distancing would not apply.

Now they say the social distancing rules will be phased in on school transport. What are parents supposed to do in the meantime? The Minister for Education Norma Foley suggested they would be ‘recompenses’.

What precisely does that mean?

Shopping

No spectators are allowed at GAA,

rugby or soccer games yet hundreds

can congregate in a shopping centre.

Just six people are now allowed

do a class in a gym but there will be

30 children sitting in a classroom

once the new school term begins. I could

fill a column with the inconsistencies.

Imagine how people in the Border

area feel. They are barred from attending

GAA games in the Republic

yet a few miles up the road 400 fans

can go to a game.

What is the logic governing the

closing times for restaurants and

bars who serve food?

NPHET originally suggested they

close at 10.30pm. They were overruled by the Government who moved it to 11pm and now it is 11.30pm.

In the country’s greatest hour of need, the GAA stood head and shoulders above all other organisations in their response.

Members were to the fore in acting as volunteers and helping the old and vulnerable cope with the crisis.

All along the GAA have been team players. They followed all the Government regulations to a T.

Indeed, at times they took a more conservative approach than the Government and I remember being critical of them for doing that.

The Association stringently policed all the new regulations regardless of the inconvenience. And what has been the official response? They have been given what amounts to the two fingers.

Despite NPHET’s pious statement about the importance of sport and the Government’s stated desire to see the All-Ireland Championship taking place this year, they have kicked the GAA in the teeth.

Realistically, the only way the championship can go ahead as planned is for it to receive financial backing from the Government. It is the least the Association deserves.

As I have repeatedly written here when the inevitable public enquiry takes place into how the Government handled this pandemic, there will be a lot of issues to be addressed.

Why were nursing homes ignored in the first crucial months of the pandemic? Red flags about the dangers in meat factories were flying for months as well but the dangers were ignored.

Industries

Direct Provision centres were an accident waiting to happen as well until the Government eventually copped on.

House parties and shebeens are the only thriving ‘industries’ at the moment and the Government doesn’t have the legislation to deal with either.

I am still at a loss to understand what is the Government’s strategy to deal with Covid-19.

Are they trying to suppress the virus completely? Are they trying to balance risk and reward? Are they merely kicking the can down the road in the hope what a vaccine will be discovered?

I’m not sure because the messages being delivered are still muddled.

Ten per cent of the counties have one per cent of the cases yet a largely one size fits all approach is still being adopted.

NPHET’s job is to give advice but it is the Government who make the decisions.

At the moment there is a definite lack of leadership with nobody taking responsibility. In terms of the relationship between NPHET and the Government, the tail is wagging the dog.

The Government’s mixed signals suggests they are making things up as they go along.

For that reason alone I welcome the announcement that they are going to produce a road map to chart what’s going to happen in the months head.

Locations and destinations are what road maps are all about.

But all the signs are that the Government is not sure where they are at the moment and most certainly haven’t much notion where it is they are heading.

I’m in despair!

Online Editors