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comment Micheál Martin and his government must be brave and realise that the benefits of restarting sport far outweigh the risks

Every code has its challenges but GAA more than most needs government to be brave

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The GAA must learn to cater for all its members, not just the elite.

The GAA must learn to cater for all its members, not just the elite.

The GAA must learn to cater for all its members, not just the elite.

I HAVE a confession to make. Covid-19 hasn’t really changed the way I live day-to-day.

Since I retired my staple diet is live, televised sport. It doesn’t matter the code. It is my opium.

Mind you, at times I feel like I’m being tossed around in a tumble dryer.

One game seems to morph into the next one. But once the final whistle sounds, I can’t remember a single thing about it.

I enjoy watching the top teams in the Premier League, particularly the ruthless efficiency of Manchester City – though I detest the way Sheikh Mansour, their Abu Dhabi owner, uses the club for sports-washing.

Like all sports the Premier League has problems. This season’s title race was effectively over a long time ago – leaving many teams with little to play for.

There are not enough top-quality teams in the competition, which means average sides such as Crystal Palace and Burnley are rewarded for mediocrity.

Financially Covid-19 has impacted negatively on the competition. By the end of the season the Premier League will have lost an estimated £2billion.

So, they have a lot of catching up to do once crowds are allowed back.

Then there is rugby. I confess to watching the so-called PRO14, which has only 12 teams this season due to the withdrawal of the South African sides.

It is a joke of a competition because so many games are mismatches.

I’m not surprised Eir is quitting sports broadcasting. This competition was their bread and butter and I imagine the viewing figures for it were shocking.

But let’s forget about the bad days for a minute. The ‘Team of Us’ redeemed themselves last Saturday. In fairness, Ireland’s performance against England was top notch.

I’m not surprised that Johnny Sexton has Kerry blood in him. But that’s not the reason I admire him.

He is cranky to both his teammates and the opposition; he wears his heart on his sleeve and is not everyone’s cup of tea. But that’s what makes him great.

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The LOI game between St Pat’s and Rovers was excellent.

The LOI game between St Pat’s and Rovers was excellent.

The LOI game between St Pat’s and Rovers was excellent.

He is his own man; he is brave beyond belief and a born leader. The way he managed the game against England was textbook stuff.

But rugby has even more pressing issues than the Premier League.

The collisions, the head injuries, the concussions – they cannot be swept under the carpet any longer. And this is before we even mention the money problems.

The financial plight of the professional game is underlined by their decision to sell a percentage of the Six Nations, which is the family silver, to venture capital company CVC.

CVC’s bottom line is to generate a return on their investment.

This means more games for the elite players and more games behind a paywall.

Meanwhile, club and social rugby has been virtually abandoned.

Horse racing is still basking in the afterglow of an exceptional Cheltenham Festival for the Irish.

Rachael Blackmore stole the show, and the industry could not have found a better ambassador.

I don’t bet but I love horse racing. However, the Gordon Elliott affair has left a sour taste in my month.

What he did was stupid, but he apologised and accepted his punishment.

Let’s be clear: he didn’t break any laws and there were no animal rights infringed – the horse he sat on was dead.

Yet, he was thrown under the bus. The level of abuse directed at him from certain sections of the media, and particularly on social media, was completely unwarranted.

Worse still, there was an element of hypocrisy about some of the commentary with a blatant attempt to circle the wagons.

Elliott does not come from so-called racing stock and I detected an element of begrudgery with some of the commentary.

There was plenty of talk about animal abuse. But there was no mention of human rights abuses – an issue which some of the mega-wealthy Arab stud farm and racehorse owners in this country should be familiar with.

But what really took the biscuit was the tone of ITV’s coverage of the Cheltenham Festival.

It wouldn’t have been out of place on a Chinese or Russian state TV station.

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The Women’s National League is kicking off this weekend.

The Women’s National League is kicking off this weekend.

The Women’s National League is kicking off this weekend.

Obviously, ITV decided that in the wake of the Gordon Elliott fiasco they would change the narrative.

So, we were treated to a completely lop-sided view of the industry. Everybody who spoke acted as a cheerleader for the sport. There was a complete absence of any critical analysis.

It was all about the racing family and the welfare of the horse. It was completely OTT.

I have never seen so many good news stories about injured horses, retired horses, and donations from the horse racing industry to charity.

All that was missing was an interview with the stable girls who fill the hot water bottles for the horses to sleep beside every night.

No amount of soft-focus TV programming can hide the fact that the horse racing industry is facing huge challenges.

The central issues are the annual government grant – it was an astonishing €76.5m last year – and there are also the tax incentives available for those receiving stallion fees.

Too much of the government subsidy is channelled into prize money which ends up in the back pockets of mega-wealthy Arab sheiks.

And don’t even get me started on horse racing’s links to the gambling industry.

One of the more enjoyable matches I watched on TV recently was the League of Ireland tie between Shamrock Rovers and St Patrick’s Athletic.

But this is a competition living in a fantasy world. At the best of times, Ireland is too small to sustain a professional soccer league.

Given that the bulk of the clubs’ revenue comes from gate receipts the future is particularly bleak. But they are the authors of their own misfortunes.

I read recently that a Dundalk player was earning €2,800 a week without bonuses last season. I hope the American owners of the club are not anticipating a return on their investment any time soon.

Two more elite sports competitions – the women’s National League and the League of Ireland First Division – are kicking off this weekend.

Fair play to the soccer authorities for getting these competitions up and running and kudos too to the FAI for persuading the government to designate them as elite sport.

This designation is stretching the word elite to its outer limits, however.

Observing this wearing my GAA cap I am more than a little jealous and very angry.

How come inter-county GAA activities including Gaelic football for men and women, hurling and camogie does not have the same elite status as these soccer leagues?

I would go further and suggest that most senior adult GAA teams in the top counties are on a par with, if not way ahead of, most First Division clubs in terms of being elite.

Anyway, the government has big decisions to make later this week.

We are at a crossroads. Surely, they must recognise that their one-size-fits-all approach to suppressing the virus hasn’t worked.

How can you tell the people of south Kerry or Leitrim to try harder when the number of Covid-19 cases in their area is virtually zero?

Summer time officially started early this morning and with the lengthening evenings and hopefully better weather, it is time to open the GAA pitches – not just to kids and inter-county players – but to all adult teams.

Otherwise, we risk creating the ludicrous scenario of GAA clubs back training north of the border next month, while the pitches remain closed in the Republic. This cannot happen.

I believe the health risk from allowing non-contact training in pods of 15 is very low.

Life cannot be suspended forever. We must get used to a new normal.

Like the other sports I mentioned, the GAA must press a reset button.

We need a new, more sustainable organisation which caters for most of its members, not just the elite.

Let’s face it, we had lost the run of ourselves with spiralling expenditure on inter-county teams while the needs of the club players were ignored. This has got to change.

My Easter wish is that Micheál Martin and his government be brave and realise that the benefits of restarting outdoor sport far outweigh the risks.

We simply cannot be cocooned indefinitely.

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