Temperature checks, behind closed doors and moving as one - How will GAA restart?

Brian McAvoy
Ulster GAA secretary and chief executive Brian McAvoy has said the GAA will "go as one"

The governments in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have mapped out their long-term strategies for dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

The respective plans have different timescales on when, and how, contact sport can return - which affects football, rugby and GAA.

So what does that mean for gaelic games, a sport which straddles two sides of the border and governs on an all-island basis?

From temperature checks, questionnaires and opening up grounds to job security and cashflow concerns, the future of the sport, both immediate and long-term, is uncertain.

BBC Sport NI's Thomas Niblock spoke to Ulster GAA secretary and chief executive Brian McAvoy to discuss some of the biggest obstacles and questions which stand in the way of the sport's return.

What do you need to happen for gaelic games to be back playing?

"We will be guided by the scientific advice, as we have been all along. Being an all-island organisation and crossing two political jurisdictions does cause some additional difficulties.

"We've seen the two route maps which have been published by the governments to come out of the lockdown.

"The one published by the Irish government had a return for Gaelic Games in stage four, however the one published by the Northern Ireland executive this week saw it in step five.

"We have to work at the pace of the government which is behind, but the more important question is what exactly will it look like? What is the expectation of not only the GAA, but all bodies involved with contact sports?

"They are the main issues that we are talking to government about - what do we need to do to meet the requirements for contact sport to take place?"

Do you need government to spell out how exactly contact sports co-exist with social distancing?

"That's is ultimately what is going to have to happen.

"The sort of thing we think will have to happen is that players will have to submit a questionnaire before they can play and they are going to have to have temperature checks.

"The World Health Organisation has said that we may have to co-exist with Covid-19 for quite some time.

"They are all issues that have to be taken into account as we return to sport and normality, or whatever the new normality will be.

"We need to spell out exactly what is going to be required."

Croke Park
GAA games could take place behind closed doors

Temperature checks for players at grounds and other potential requirements- is that doable at county level, club and underage?

"In terms of a temperature check, I think it is easy enough to check every player before a game. I think that is doable.

"It may become more challenging as you slip down the age groups to underage players.

"We will just have to wait and see exactly what the requirement will be.

"There is still some scientific debate as to what level children can get the disease, and they are questions that we are waiting for some answers on.

"We will have to see exactly what is required on paper and then we will be able to see what is doable and what is not doable."

Is the opening of GAA grounds for exercise being considered?

"That is being considered. We have the advisory group for the GAA, which was announced last week.

"They will advise the association on all aspects of things, and that will include walkways.

"If it is felt that the time is right, and as long as it is in compliance with the respective jurisdictions, then it could be appropriate."

Garda officers at a checkpoint
A cross-border sports brings its own challenges

Are you speaking to governments about potential funding?

"The GAA community has been very supportive of government initiatives, in terms of volunteering. When government came calling, we, along with other sporting bodies, were very quick to put our hands up and agree to help.

"We are facing serious cashflow problems across the association at all levels at Ulster GAA. We have furloughed most of our staff, so that is an issue.

"We know the furlough scheme will continue in some guise until October, but eventually that will end.

"Some of our clubs have been able to benefit from the £25,000 small business relief scheme. Unfortunately they were not eligible for the £10,000 scheme.

"A lot of the smaller clubs have not been able to avail of anything, and some of our larger ones, like ourselves, haven't been able to qualify because we don't meet the threshold that has been set out.

"I think there is a need, both north and south, for further government intervention. They are conversations that are happening on both sides of the border."

If that government assistance isn't forthcoming - will jobs be lost?

"We hope that we don't ever get to that situation.

"If we were in a situation where the government publishes its protocols around retuning to contact sport, and it became totally impossible for amateur organisations, like ourselves, then we will have some very, very serious issues.

"We are very hopeful that is something that will not arise."

John Horan
GAA president John Horan had said gaelic games are unlikely to return while social distancing measures remains in place.

If the alternative is no championship or one behind closed doors - what would you prefer?

"With the nature of the GAA, playing behind closed doors is not something which appeals to us. If it is something that will have to be considered, then by all means I think it will be.

"We have to look at the safety of everyone and what regulations needs to be in place for the game at the very start, and how it will be different for players and then spectators.

"They are all issues that we will have to speak to government about and they will be a factor if we decide that closed doors is a potential option.

"The very fact that both governments, in their plans, have said contact sports can come back then they obviously have ideas.

"If they felt that games couldn't take place then I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have them in the documents."

If the southern government has a different position from the executive. One says you can play, once says you can't. What does Ulster GAA do?

"I think it's the only way we can do it - to go as one.

"Take the Ulster Championship and the game which would have been taking place this Sunday - Tyrone and Donegal.

"If there are two sets of rules in two different sets of jurisdictions, it is difficult to see how that game could have proceeded.

"We can't have a situation where Cavan against Monaghan can go ahead, but Derry verses Armagh can't.

"I think we are going to have to move as one. I don't think we have any option on that."

Top Stories

Also in NI Sport