The short-term prospects for a return to sporting action in Ireland are non-existent. The medium-term options are limited.
And the lockdown for live sport could continue as far as the New Year judging by some of the predictions as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to claim lives and hurt communities across the country, Europe and the world.
The GAA has admitted there may be no Championship action before July in 2020. Rugby is preparing for games behind closed doors in the autumn.
The FAI is awaiting guidelines from UEFA on a possible return to international action in September and is clinging to the hope of a resumption for the League of Ireland in June.
The Dublin Horse Show has been cancelled for this summer. The Irish Open golf at Mount Juliet in May has been abandoned. Horse racing’s flat classics may not be seen until this time next year at the earliest.
The sporting calendar may never be the same.
It’s a prospect not lost on Minister for Health Simon Harris or those advising his government. Dr. Colm Henry, chief clinical officer with the Irish Health Service Executive, warned last week that any sport which attracts large crowds will be well down the waiting list when it comes to a return to normality.
“Why would we beat that curve down, hopefully crushing it in the coming weeks if we all buckle down, if suddenly we all decided to congregate on beaches and football stadiums or matches?” asked Henry.
Harris repeated the warning to those expecting sporting action in the near future.
“It’s highly unlikely we’re going to be seeing very large kinds of mass gatherings this year,” he said.
“Could you get to a point where you can’t have massive GAA matches, but you could have local kids having a kickabout safely? That’s the sort of space that we’re in, that we need to work our way through.
“What’s not going to come back quickly are scenarios in which we can’t safely socially distance. I can’t see how people can be in packed pubs again as long as this virus is still with us and we don’t have a vaccine or an effective treatment.”
The GAA, a game populated by amateurs, faces a €60 million loss if live action is postponed or cancelled in the coming months. It is a sport where its players live in the heart of the communities currently under a Covid-19 sieve, players who will not want to bring the virus home even if asked to play behind closed doors.
“I think even players have come out and said that playing a game with no atmosphere where you can hear the strike of a sliotar or the kick of a ball in an empty stadium is no great enjoyment,” said GAA President John Horan after the GAA voted at a congress via video last Friday to grant special powers to Croke Park to alter plans for the 2020 championships in hurling and football as needs be.
“But, look, if that was to be taken on board at a later stage, we would take it on board.”
One man unwilling to take any risk with the coronavirus is the Clare hurling captain John Conlon, as he explained to the Game On show on RTE radio.
“I don’t think there will be a GAA Championship this year,” said Conlon. “Until there’s a vaccine and the safety of everyone and their families can be guaranteed.
“We have players whose grandparents live with them. My mother has had cancer twice and hasn’t left the house the last number of weeks. I hate to think that if I was able to play, I wouldn’t be able to see them for a number of weeks.
“We’re fully amateur at the end of the day. This is not our profession. It’s very important that everyone’s safety is guaranteed before any Championship game takes place, at club level and inter-county. Until all those guarantees can be met by the GAA, I don’t think any Championship games can be played.”
Conlon has appealed for the GAA – or government – to offer real clarity with the current lockdown scheduled for review on May 5.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty there. A little bit of clarification would be no harm from the GAA,” added Conlon.
Conlon also agreed with Horan that a closed door Championship will not appeal to anyone.
“I wouldn’t be a massive fan of it. We’ve all played challenge matches where there’s no one inside in Cusack Park or Thurles and to hear the ball being pucked over and back, it just doesn’t add to the same intensity and drive,” he said.
“It’s going to be a very weird time going forward.”