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Our nation can't wait With Covid-19 threatening the future of our sports we need funds and fans to survive


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DRAMA: Joe Gallagher of Kiladangan against Willie Eviston (left) and Lorcan Egan of Loughmore-Castleiney

DRAMA: Joe Gallagher of Kiladangan against Willie Eviston (left) and Lorcan Egan of Loughmore-Castleiney

SPORTSFILE

DRAMA: Joe Gallagher of Kiladangan against Willie Eviston (left) and Lorcan Egan of Loughmore-Castleiney

I'm addicted to sport.

I got my daily fix in recent weeks from the Tour de France.

I was captivated by the scenery, the history of the areas the race was passing through, the tactics of road racing and the torture the riders endure on the mountain stages.

But then I see merit in every sport, marvelling at the achievements of their individual stars.

So last Sunday was my version of Shangri-La - an 'if Carlsberg did Sunday sport' kind of day for the armchair fan.

GAA club action galore, Sam Bennett's glorious stage win on the Champs-Élysées, European rugby quarter-final action, Liverpool beating Chelsea in the Premier League and Bryson DeChambeau (below) overpowering the Winged Foot West golf course to win the US Open.

Watching his performance it struck me that both golf and hurling have a problem with their respective balls.

The golf ball and the sliotar are travelling such prodigious distances nowadays that it is detracting from other aspects of both games.

Surely the time is right for the composition of both the golf ball and the sliotar to be examined with a view to reducing the distance they travel.

Unless this happens there is a danger that the other skills in both games will become less significant.

It won't add anything to the spectacle of golf or hurling if the only thing that really matters is the ability to belt the ball into kingdom come.

But it was a no-contest when it came to picking out the sporting highlight of the afternoon.

It was Kiladangan's breakthrough win - achieved at the death - in the Tipperary senior hurling championship final.

Their epic battle against Loughmore-Castleiney was nothing short of magical and provided a much-needed escape valve from the doom and gloom which prevails in the country right now.

For and hour and a half the contest provided everything one expects from a great sporting contest.

I have never taken an illicit substance in my life. So I have no idea what kind of high they produce.

But I doubt if any drug could give me the kind of high I felt after watching the game, which was decided by a goal scored in injury time at the end of extra time. It was sheer bliss.

The emotional celebrations at the end were a joy to witness. Similar scenes were replicated at other grounds last weekend, as clubs experienced the unique joy of winning a county title.

Granted the pitch invasion in Omagh after Dungannon's win on penalties in the Tyrone county final did not reflect well on those involved.

But let's put what happened in context. It was a one-off spontaneous outpouring of emotion.

It cannot be compared with house parties, an all-night rave in a farmer's field on the Dublin-Meath border or the illegal rave which terrorised residents in the Oliver Bond flat complex in Dublin's inner city.

While on the subject of the Tyrone final, the outcome confirmed my view that a penalty shoot-out is the wrong way to decide the result of a county final.

It is arbitrary and unfair. Where the teams are still level after extra time I believe there should be a replay.

And in Tyrone's case they had plenty of time to schedule a replay.

All the club games demonstrated how important sport is, both for players and communities in these difficult times.

As a society we need sport now more than ever. But Covid-19 is threatening its very existence.

The presentations made by the GAA, the IRFU and the FAI to the Dáil committee on Covid-19 were stark. Essentially, they called into question the future of sport as we know it in this country.

The IRFU expect to lose €30m this year which leaves the future of professional rugby in Ireland under threat.

The FAI will lose €19m and League of Ireland football will go bust in 2021 without government funding.

At least the IRFU and the FAI have an international parent organisation which they can look to for some emergency funding.

Financially, the GAA are in the most precarious position of all.

They have budgeted to lose €50m this year, while next year they expect there will be a €20m hole in its balance sheet.

Collectively, county boards return an annual surplus of €4m - this year it will be a deficit of £12m.

For the three big sports organisations the key to survival is being able to generate gate receipts, which can only happen if greater numbers are allowed into games.

Though this goes against the grain, I believe we need to revisit the current restrictions.

I have yet to hear a cogent case made that there is scientific evidence to prove that spectators at outdoor sporting events have contributed to the second wave of the virus.

We don't even have a coherent policy on the island of Ireland. Twice as many fans can attend games in Northern Ireland compared to the counties in the Republic which are designated as Level 2.

Granted the UK has reimposed the ban on spectators. But this is not the case in other parts of the world.

Five thousand attended Ulster's European Rugby Champions Cup quarter-final last weekend in Toulouse, while crowds are back at outdoor matches in New Zealand, Australia and the United States.

The Tour De France was run off over three weeks without any significant hitches.

It shows that if there is a will, there is a way.

So I welcome the fact that the three Irish sporting organisations are working together to come up with a road map to enable extra fans to be allowed into their games.

It is vital that the government accept their proposals. After all, the sports organisations have shown great leadership in the crisis and taken their responsibilities seriously.

Frankly, I don't believe allowing extra fans into venues poses a significant health threat.

As far I am concerned NPHET has failed to produce proof that the rise in the number of confirmed cases is as a result of people attending games.

Similarly, there is a lack of evidence linking outbreaks to bars and restaurants.

I agree with the contention of former Tánaiste and Justice Minister Michael McDowell, who said recently that the new 'lockdown' in Dublin had not been scientifically justified.

Furthermore, I was taken aback by the comments of Professor Philip Nolan, who is chair of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group and a key member of NPHET.

In a tweet to explain why restaurants and pubs in Dublin were being closed, considering there are so few outbreaks associated with those environments, he wrote:

"We would like to go back and find out where people are getting the virus but we don't have the time or resources to pursue this academic exercise."

So the bottom line is that NPHET don't know where the virus is coming from.

They are merely speculating that having a pint, eating a meal in a restaurant or attending a game is contributing to the spike in cases.

Of course, it is far easier to close pubs and restaurants and ban fans from attending games than tackle the beef barons who own the meat processing plants, where there have been far more confirmed clusters of cases than at any sporting event.

With the All-Ireland series just around the corner I promise - granted I have made this promise before - that this will be last plea to the government on Covid-19.

Regardless of what the policy is we need it to be delivered by ONE person - preferably the Minister for Health.

We need to scrap the daily publication of confirmed cases. It is driving fear among communities.

We don't need the assistant secretary of the Department of the Taoiseach reading out a prepared statement a couple of times a week.

We don't need reams of statistics either. We need the detail behind them.

And, in particular, we need a message of hope.

The government's response must be weighed against what medical, social and economic implications it will have.

The only criteria which appears to matter at the moment is the medical one.

Magic Johnston once said there is winning and losing in life - and both will happen.

What is never acceptable, he said, was quitting.

As a nation we can't wait.

We a have to keep going and continue to take our personal responsibilities seriously as well.

So my final message is that sport must keep going.