Ministers Martin, Donnelly and Chambers meet with representatives of the Sport sector to discuss COVID-19 Challenges

04 Sep 2020
David Gash

The Minister for Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht, Catherine Martin TD; the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly TD; the Government Chief Whip and Minister of State for Sport and the Gaeltacht, Jack Chambers TD; and the acting Chief Medical Officer, Dr Ronan Glynn;  today met by videoconference with representatives of the sport sector to discuss the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Participating in the videoconference were the Chief Executive of Sport Ireland, John Treacy; the Interim Chief Executive of the Football Association of Ireland, Gary Owens; the Ard Stiúrthóir of the Gaelic Athletic Association, Tom Ryan; and the Chief Executive of the Irish Rugby Football Union, Philip Browne.

The Ministers and the acting CMO expressed their appreciation for the role the sporting bodies played as part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and in particular the support provided by the sporting bodies to the Health Service Executive and the Community Call. The use of sporting facilities for test sites and other purposes was a vital support for the health services. Individual clubs in a range of sports throughout the country stepped up to support elderly and vulnerable people in their communities.

Minister Martin and Minister of State Chambers expressed their thanks for the contribution from the sport sector to the Expert Group on Return to Sport which has been invaluable in facilitating a safe return to sporting activity. The Expert Group has had 15 meetings thus far and has considered over 50 protocols from a wide range of sports, all of which have now resumed activity. The Expert Group has also developed specific guidance for the sport sector, such as the guidelines for travel by high performance and professional athletes which facilitated the travel to Bulgaria by the men’s senior international soccer team for their UEFA Nations League fixture last evening.

The Ministers acknowledged the high level of compliance with the protocols and other public health guidance at all levels of sport. The Ministers voiced their appreciation for the ongoing commitment by coaches, mentors and officials to ensure public health guidance is adhered to at all competitive events and training sessions.

The sporting representatives briefed the Ministers on progress in the sport sector and the challenges they are facing as a consequence of the current restrictions. The Ministers noted the concerns raised and confirmed that these would be considered when the Government next meets to review the public health regulations.

Minister Martin said, “I convened the meeting today to facilitate a dialogue for the sport sector with Minister Donnelly and the acting CMO. Our discussions were wide-ranging and informative, covering not just the issue of spectators but also other challenges facing the sport sector. I have been very impressed by the commitment throughout the sport sector to support their communities during the pandemic and by the flexible and innovative approaches they have taken to return to training and competition in a responsible and safe way.

“Sport is a vital part of Irish life and my officials and Sport Ireland will continue to support the sector through the challenging winter months ahead. I can assure the sport sector that your concerns will be raised at the Cabinet table as we discuss the new roadmap to be published in the middle of the month.”

Minister Donnelly said, “I was delighted to meet with the GAA, FAI and IRFU today to discuss protecting sports during the COVID-19 pandemic. These sporting organisations are a vital part of life in Ireland. They really stepped up to provide vital support to their communities in recent months, and their contribution is greatly appreciated. The coming months are about suppressing the virus while opening up our society and economy – sport is a key part of this.  Government, the Expert Group on the Return to Sport and sporting bodies will continue to work together as we navigate our way through this pandemic.”

Minister Chambers said, “Today’s meeting was a good opportunity to hear from the sporting bodies who have been impacted severely by the COVID-19 pandemic. The current restrictions on gathering sizes and spectators are just the latest challenge the sport sector has had to overcome. I have been heartened by the resilience of Irish sport which has ensured that children and adults across Ireland have enjoyed a summer of active participation including the traditional summer camps. As the schools reopen and we move into autumn, we must anticipate the coming challenges. I know the Expert Group on Return to Sport has begun its consideration of these issues and I am confident that sporting activity will continue throughout the winter months.

“Minister Martin and I will share with our Cabinet colleagues the key elements of today’s discussion to inform the next steps we take as Government.”

Minister Martin asked the groups and sports leaders to help the existing Expert Group on Return to Sport to explore the restrictions around sporting events in the context of Covid-19, including examining international best practice. Ms Martin wants the group to come back with considerations that can be brought to health officials as part of preparation for the upcoming whole-of-government roadmap on resilience, due to be released later this month. The Minister told the sporting bodies: “Time is of the essence. You have an incredible role to play.”