‘It wasn’t a case of removing, it was a case of giving clarity’ – Minister on GAA’s playing exemption

Updated Feb 11th 2021, 4:30 PM

MINISTER FOR STATE of Sport Jack Chambers has explained how inter-county GAA came to lose its exemption status as an elite sport during Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions, with GAA president John Horan later clarifying that the lack of ‘bubbles’ was the predominant reason behind the Association parking its inter-county activity for at least the next two months.

The GAA announced on Wednesday that there will be no Gaelic Games activity “until Easter at the earliest,” while inter-county games are no longer permitted to proceed under Level 5, whereas they could in 2020.

Professional soccer and rugby are still classed as elite sports that can be played under Level 5.

“In the roadmap that was published last autumn, we gave exemptions for professional sports,” the Minister explained on Today with Claire Byrne on RTÉ Radio 1.

“For example, the League of Ireland is a professional league. That is the distinction.

“But we do want to review the plan and how we live with Covid. That is why sport will be included in that.

“To be clear, the government has been very thankful to the GAA and broader sporting organisations for supporting the public health effort. I want to see the Championship this year. I want to see our young people getting back playing.

“When the GAA Championship was run off, that was done in the context of Level 5 and there was a concession outside of Level 5 framework approved by government. Once the Championship finished in December, as you know there was no fixtures scheduled at that point.

“There was also a very difficult Level 5 lockdown for the country so the regulations didn’t capture that because there was no fixtures in the current schedule. The concession concluded at the end of last year.

“When you look at the context of the number of cases in January, that is why the government is revising the plan. I haven’t any communication from NPHET on this. It is a case of giving a direct answer on a concession for inter-county GAA.”

The Minister added that GAA, the Camogie Association and LGFA did not seek to make a return in the immediate future.

“They made it clear that there was not a massive appetite to return in the medium term.”

Minister Jack Chambers [middle] was speaking on the Claire Byrne Show.

Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

GAA president John Horan later confirmed that, upon consultation with the sports minister, the impossibility of operating from within bubble environments was the predominant reason behind Gaelic games losing their ‘elite’ sport exemption under the Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions.

“I asked the Minister the question directly, ‘were we included in the present elite status’”, Horan told RTÉ Sport.

“He said we weren’t because the present elite status categorised was those sports that could operate within a bubble, and the GAA obviously wouldn’t be able to function in such a manner.

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“If you look across the three associations there would be 106 teams there at senior inter-county level – that would be a multiple of about 5,000 players.

“They all work within the community and we’ve all seen that throughout the winter.

“If you go back to our record last year we were always safe and responsible in the decisions we made in terms of return to play. Sometimes we moved at a slower pace than NPHET or the government were recommending.

“We have an appetite to go back and play the games but we feel, as both a management committee and the covid advisory committee, that it’s not safe and it wouldn’t be responsible to go back at the moment such is the level of the virus within society.”

Dublin West TD Chambers clarified that it was not a case of inter-county GAA losing its elite sports status permanently, but simply that the exemption arrangement concluded at the end of last year and that it could not continue in the current circumstances.

“We had a very positive discussion with the GAA and the other organisations. They’ve made it very clear they want to support the public health effort. We’ve had more Covid-19 cases in January than all of last year. It’s also important to say in the broader context of the Return to Sport, as the Taoiseach said this morning, in the next two weeks.

“There was no decision taken to remove the GAA from the elite category. It’s a case of giving clarity on the regulations as they currently stand. It wasn’t a case of removing, it was a case of giving clarity.

“What I’m seeking to do is work with the GAA and other sporting organisations is provide an update in the context of the revised plan and hopefully we can give certainty on the timeline for the broader return to sport.”

The minister also revealed that there has been no conversation with the GAA about a timeline on returning to activity, and reiterated the importance of public health and safety.

“The priority at this point is to reinforce the public health message for people to stay at home and that gives us a lot more opportunity in the sport and the broadening of the reopening of society through the year.

“I think the GAA are capable of protecting the safety of players and I commend what happened in 2020 and how they ran out the Championship. But there is no Championship planned for the next two to three weeks for example.

“This is a case of revising the plan and giving certainty through the year. We want to see young people back playing with their local clubs.

“We aren’t in a position to give a specific date [for a return to play] at this point and we’ll try to give that later in the month when we revise the plan.”

– Updated at 16:30 with quotes from GAA president John Horan

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