September 30, 2023
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MICHAEL WOLSEY: The GAA is not elite and I hope it never will be

In these Covid-haunted times, the things that make the GAA great are also the association’s biggest weakness: the men and women who play its sports are all amateurs and they compete in every part of the country.

They have been classed as elite under the new guidelines for virus control, which gives them the same status as professional soccer players from the League of Ireland, highly paid rugby internationals from the four provinces and the cosseted superstars of England’s Premier League.

In truth there is a world of difference. Premier League players live in a bubble, monitored and cared for by teams of top doctors. They train and socialise together and are transported by coach and plane to the empty grounds where they play.

Despite all these precautions, some of the world’s top soccer players have contracted the Covid virus. But there is no danger they will spread it by going to work in a factory or an office, or a school where they  teach a class of 30 children. They will not bump into their supporters in the street or receive the good wishes of fans while they are shopping  in the local Spar.

Irish rugby players, even the top ones, do not move on quite the same elevated level as the stars of England’s Premier League but you are unlikely to meet one of them while you are queuing for a takeaway coffee or waiting in the post office to collect your pension.

The guys who line out for League of Ireland clubs most certainly do not enjoy superstar status. But they are professionals. Sport is their job and they don’t have to attend a workplace to do another one.

All of these players meet, in some degree, the dictionary definition of elite: “A select group or class”. There are many fine athletes among Ireland’s  Gaelic footballers, hurlers and camogie players, but they are not elite in that sense. Off the pitch they are our neighbours and friends, our brothers and sisters, children and grandchildren. And, if they are not careful, they are the people who will give us Covid-19.

You don’t have to play to be a GAA Covid spreader. The rules of social distancing were flagrantly broken by fans celebrating club success. We are told this won’t happen at county level but I can’t see what this assertion is based on, except, perhaps, that pubs are no longer open.

Are we seriously to believe that if Kerry were to hammer Dublin there would not be parties all over the Kingdom? Or, if Waterford were to wallop Kilkenny, that the Déise would confine their expressions of delight to a few socially-distanced nods and smiles of quiet satisfaction?

The compelling urge to celebrate local achievement is in the DNA of every GAA supporter. It’s part of what we are.

For all these reasons, I believe it is a mistake to let the senior football, hurling and camogie championships continue.

In Covid-spreading terms they are no less dangerous than the junior and minor tournaments,  which have been called off.

I would be sorry for their loss of these games as I am sorry for the loss of pubs, restaurants, gyms and theatres. But that, I’m afraid, is life in the time of Covid.

Cancelling the championships is the right thing to do  and if the Government doesn’t order it,  the GAA should.  An elite association might think otherwise  but the GAA is not elite and I hope it never will be.

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