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GAA update GAA insists all competitions will go ahead despite losing its elite status

The Taoiseach has insisted the exemption for senior inter-county football and hurling granted in 2020 was “always timed to end at the end of the year.”


Mícheal Martin has explained the government's decision to revoke the GAA's elite sport status.  Picture Julien Behal Photography

Mícheal Martin has explained the government's decision to revoke the GAA's elite sport status. Picture Julien Behal Photography

Mícheal Martin has explained the government's decision to revoke the GAA's elite sport status. Picture Julien Behal Photography

TAOISEACH Mícheal Martin has explained the government’s decision to revoke elite status for inter-county Gaelic Games, a position that has thrown a second GAA season into deep uncertainty.

Speaking on Morning Ireland, the Taoiseach insisted the exemption for senior inter-county football and hurling granted in 2020 was “always timed to end at the end of the year.”

He added that all decisions with regard to the playing of sport are designed to “keep activity levels low in society,” although policy in this area would be reviewed over the coming weeks.

A meeting of the GAA's Covid Advisory committee yesterday evening digested talks between leading GAA officials and Government that took place earlier this week where it was made clear that under current Level Five restrictions, there was no clearance for inter-county games to proceed.

The GAA had sought clarity on the status of its inter-county games which had got clearance during the previous Level Five lockdown from October to December.

Explaining the decision to remove elite status from inter-county GAA, the Taoiseach told Morning Ireland on RTE Radio 1: "I thought it worked well last year, the inter-county GAA situation, but it was always timed to end at the end of the year so we look at it afresh.

"We think inter-county sport made a difference, both in soccer and in GAA

"There's a balance here in terms of the mental health of people and in terms of quality of life.

"We want to keep activity levels low in society more generally in terms of mobility and in terms of the potential for the spread of the disease.

"What's emerging in terms of the close contact testing that's come back in the last week, the positivity rate among close contacts is at 22 per cent.

"Prior to this wave it would have been around 10 or 11 per cent so that gives an illustration perhaps of the transmissibility of this variant and its impact.

"Hospitalisation, even though it's coming down, the number of people in hospital is still well over 20 per cent of the peak last April so we have to keep these figures in context as we slowly move out of the very stringent instructions that we currently experience."

"We'll also be looking at it in the context of the plan that is being revisited by us currently.

"We'll look at sport more generally."

Meanwhile, the GAA still intends to run off its inter-county championships and national leagues in 2021, but no decision on potential changes to the calendar or competition formats will be made before Easter.

That was the message from GAA director of communications Alan Milton today, as his organisation absorbed the stark ramifications of the government's decision that senior inter-county activity no longer qualifies for an 'elite sport' exemption under Level 5 restrictions.

Last night's development has placed a massive question mark over original plans to run off the inter-county leagues and championships, the latter finishing in summer, followed by the club championships.

But Milton stressed that this uncertainty was nothing different to what they had faced last year, when Covid-19 first brought all GAA activity to a standstill.

"You might remember the frenzy in March and April last year where every day we were asked what are your competitions going to look like? We couldn't answer it then and we can't answer it now," he told Morning Ireland.

"But what we did show last year was that if you scenario-plan well enough, you can react quickly and you can bring the wider membership with you. This can work, and we're very confident it will again this year.

"We haven't made any hard-and-fast decisions in relation to how the championships and the leagues will [proceed], but as things stand we definitely aim to run both off. Whether or not we've to reach a tipping point in the season where we have to look at redrafting the competitions or perhaps flipping things remains to be seen, but I think we've got to hold our powder until Easter comes. And, at the start of April, hopefully the figures will have not only stabilised but decreased and may allow some wiggle room with the Government in terms of relaxing restrictions."

For now, he outlined, the GAA is awaiting publication of the tweaked 'Living With Covid' document next week, "but I don't think it will give absolutes in terms of dates and timelines. It may give us some insights as to what might be possible.

"I think it's important also that we don't just focus on the inter-county game. There's hundreds of thousands of club players out there, not to mention young players, who are without schooling at the moment. So anything that we might be able to do - to get back in a non-contact, even in pods, situation - would be hugely welcome for society and across the community, not just for the GAA.

"The GAA has tried to play its part from day one, we'll continue to liaise with the Government and we'll take their lead, but I think we've got to get as creative as we got last year when it comes to scenario-planning to make sure that we can make the most of 2021. And we're adamant that we'll do our utmost to do exactly that."

On the question of when club or underage activity might resume, he added: "You can rest assured as an organisation we'll be pushing for it - if the Government are happy that it can be done safely. We took our lead from the schools last March; once the schools were out, as an organisation we felt we couldn't stand over collective training. If the schools are to return, even on a phased basis, you'd like to think that that conversation would at least start."

On the differentiation drawn between other sports, including League of Ireland soccer, Milton demurred that this was a question for Government but added: "We can't bubble our players. They're amateur sportspeople, obviously they float around in the community after they train and they play, that's a given. There may well be an international dimension to those codes, at least in the case of soccer, that is different to us.

"But I'd like to think the GAA showed how it could run its competitions last year, and as soon as it's possible to get them back up and running that we'd be allowed to do so."

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