The GAA President John Horan not in favour of the concept of playing behind closed doors

The Sunday Game returned to TV screens last night and opened with a studio interview with GAA president John Horan.

In the interview with host Des Cahill the GAA president relayed his view that he didn’t expect football or hurling to resume while social distancing is in place.

Horan also poured cold water on the idea of playing games behind closed doors and discussed the careful approach the GAA will take going forward, the financial impact on the Association due to Covid-19 and why there will be no activity at GAA grounds before the 20th of July.

When asked if social distancing was to remain would we actually see a potential return to Gaelic games action the GAA President didn’t see it happening.

“I can’t see it happening to be quite honest said Horan. If social distancing is a priority to deal with this pandemic, I don’t know how we can play a contact sport. That is what Gaelic games is, it’s a contact sport.”

Under the five phases of the Government’s roadmap to reopen the country a return to GAA activity is placed before contact sports like rugby and boxing.

Horan was asked if he was surprised the government didn’t deem the GAA a close physical sport.

“First of all I was delighted to see the government viewed sport as being important and did include it in the document (statement to reopen the country) and everyone in sport would feel that way.

“When you look at the level of contact in sports, scrums in rugby are probably at a different level. But I don’t think to say our games are non-contact is correct, no.”

No GAA activity at grounds until 20th of July

Horan explained that GAA premises will remain closed until July 20th as he is unwilling to put the onus on volunteers in clubs to insure that Covid-19 prevention guidelines are adhered.

“There was a concept in it that people could gather together in groups of four. We felt that just couldn’t be marshaled within clubs and that is why we continue to keep our premises closed.

“Our clubs are led by a lot of good quality volunteer people and to put the onus on the volunteers within our organisation to make the decision to police and organise training within our facilities, we just felt that would be too much.

“You would have a group of four here, and there, and all of a sudden you would have a full squad gathering. Then the next thing after a period of that training, they’d probably push on and you could have a training behind closed doors.

“I’ve had contacts since from one or two club chairman who have said thanks for taking it out of our hands, because they were concerned how we were going to police it in our own grounds.

“We got a lot of calls that weekend from people looking for clarification of what the GAA’s position was.

“We took our time, consulted with our county chairmen and management committee before we came out with our press release on Wednesday. I think we have taken the right decision.

“I’m not going to pass that responsibility onto the club volunteer who does a great job for us to make the decisions. Professional sport is in a different league because they don’t go back into work and can be cocooned in a family situation. We can’t do that and won’t. I think people’s health and safety is key to it all.”

Behind closed doors games a non runner

Conversations about a return to action in recent weeks and how that could be accomplished has brought up the the idea of playing games behind closed doors.

But the GAA President John Horan has an issue with that concept and believes if it’s safe for players to return and be in close contact, then it’s going to be safe enough for a certain number of spectators to return.

“I have a bit of an issue with the closed doors concept. If it is safe enough for the players to be in close contact on the pitch, then it is going to be safe enough to have a certain number of people in the ground gathering,” he said.

“I don’t think behind closed doors is going to happen to be honest with you. I think if there is games to be on the pitch of contact sport, there is going to be a certain acceptance there will be crowds in the stadium. I think is where it is going to rest.”

In a statement last week the GAA outlined October as the earliest date for the 2020 championship to start. Horan is adamant that if they can’t resume by that date then the championships won’t take place.

Even if games do return within the time frame Horan believes that the Association will struggle to complete the remaining match of this years Leagues.

“I think this year’s Championship would have to start in 2020 and go into the first two months of 2021.

“After that, if we’re back in action, we would have to move on and get on with the 2021 competitions. At this stage I would be inclined to say we will struggle to finish the league.”

Club games a priority

The first priority will be the reopening of clubs in July and a return to club games activity first as they account for 98% of all GAA games.

And the July and October dates Horan believe are certainly possible and if things improve regarding the current health crisis then those dates will be looked at and reviewed with the possibility of bringing them forward.

But GAA President John Horan is also very conscious that the GAA have a responsibility to get their decisions on a return right and he is wary of a GAA club developing a cluster of infections.

“The July and October dates are ones we feel possibly a return will happen. If things improve and hopefully they will, then dates can be looked at and reviewed.

“They can be looked at in either manner, to be brought forward or pushed back. As it stands we feel both dates are a safe call at the moment.

“The level of contact that goes on in our sport, I would have a concern about putting people into contact sport and then returning to their family. I was talking to one club manager this week with four brothers involved in a panel.

“They have told him they are not going back because their father is elderly with an underlying health issue and they are not prepared to take the risk of bringing anything back to their father.

“There’s a lot of people out there writing and expressing opinions, and I value everyone’s view, but ultimately there is a responsibility there to get this right.

“If one GAA club developed into a word we use now, ‘cluster’ for Covid-19, I think that would be a very bad day’s work on our part. That is something we are very conscious of, that none of our facilities are going to become a cluster.”

Players are covered by insurance

The issue of insurance cropped up and if a player would be covered if they contracted Covid-19 while at a GAA facility.

Horan confirmed that under their present policy they would be covered but only if the organisation didn’t do anything unsafe or lacked in place the requisite preventive measures.

“Under our present policy, and I’ve checked this out, our players would be covered for Covid-19, provided we don’t do anything unsafe. That is part of our decision-making process, not to be doing anything in terms of resuming games.

“That is a factor. Going forward I think insurance companies will probably exclude pandemics from insurance policies. As it stands up until the 31st of October, if a player is involved in training or playing, they would be covered under the policy.

“But again we would have to make a very clear decision that we would have to put them in a safe environment to play games.”

GAA won’t risk any players health

Club activity will be a priority with games up to minor played on a league format instead of championship and minor and senior games played on a knockout format.

The health and risk to players though will be first and foremost in any decision and if the July and October dates can’t be realised then serious decisions will have to be made and that ultimately may lead to the cancellation of either the club or inter-county championships or both.

“The key thing is contact sport. Our concern has to be the players on the pitch and their families and work colleagues.

“They are all amateurs and it is a hobby to them. I know they take it very seriously at inter-county level and they have a very serious approach to it.

“But we can’t risk anybody’s health. When this is all over and we are all back to normal life, I would hate to think as an organisation that we would have made a decision that cost any family a member of their family.

“We are holding those July and October dates out but if we can’t realise those dates, then we will have to make more serious decisions and push it out more.

“If we push it out more it may mean we’ll have to call off club or inter-county championships and maybe then we’ll have to call off both.

Cancellation of championship will see Association lose €50 million

If the championship is called off the GAA are set to lose in the region of €50 million euro and if that happens GAA President John Horan admits it will have a major impact on grants to clubs.

“It is a serious situation for us. It’s one of the things that is quite worrying for us. We operate on a financial profile, such as the €74m last year, that all gets recirculated. We don’t engage in building up massive reserves.

“So our whole operation and budgeting this year would have been on the basis of revenue streams coming in from games and sponsors.

“Looking at the figures at the moment, it looks like we will end up with a loss of €25 million to €30 million, centrally in Croke Park. That is the central GAA and the actual stadium.

“Throughout the organisation taking into account county boards and clubs, the loss for the year for us is probably in the region of €50m.

“Unfortunately [for those who have applied for grants], they have possibly just hit a bad time for their application. The money is not there. As soon as the money comes back on stream, we’ll only be too delighted to be getting back our supporting our clubs with the money.

“A €50m loss throughout a whole organisation that doesn’t keep big reserves, we just won’t have the funding to hand it out.

“That is why I’m conscious that everyone should cut costs. We have done that in Croke Park with our budgets to trim it back as best we can. We want to be as robust as we can when we get the opportunity to come back.”