Golf and tennis clubs closed under Level 5 as deemed ‘non-essential’ services

Sam McConkey says ‘Golfgate’ highlighted the problem of socialising after a sport during the pandemic

Covid-19 signposts at Tullamore Golf Club. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

Covid-19 signposts at Tullamore Golf Club. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

 

Golf and tennis clubs are being forced to close because they are deemed to be “non-essential” services, a Government spokesman has said.

There was shock among many in golf and tennis circles when the Level 5 restrictions precluded golfers and tennis from carrying on as both sports are outdoors and social distancing is easy.

A Government spokesman said the sports themselves were not inherently dangerous and playing them did not constitute a high risk of getting Covid-19.

Instead, he stressed that the restrictions are in place to stop people moving around and doing non-essential activities.

“The roadmap and the list of essential outlets and services is very specific,” he said pointing to the Level 5 website.

“The core message is to keep essential services open, and golf or tennis are not essential services”.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly told Newstalk’s Pat Kenny programme on Thursday that the essential message for the next six weeks is “go home and stay within 5km of your house”.

He said no exceptions could be made for any amateur sport.

“Should we start picking out individual sports and say you can do this but you can’t do that?” he asked.

Under Level 5 restrictions the only sport that can take place is professional, elite sports and senior inter-county Gaelic games. Horse-racing and greyhound racing are permitted to continue behind closed doors.

The other sporting activity that is allowed will be non-contact training for school aged children outdoors in pods of 15.

On Wednesday afternoon the Golfing Union of Ireland said that despite intensive engagement with Sport Ireland “very regrettably golf clubs must under the Level 5 restrictions”. Tennis Ireland also expressed disappointment at the decision following its discussions with Sport Ireland.

In a statement to its members, it said: “Tennis Ireland understands the difficulties and disappointment that this instruction will pose for players, coaches, club volunteers and staff but the challenge caused by Covid-19 impacts across all sectors of society and sport and we need a nationwide effort to fight it.

“Tennis Ireland will, as it always has done, work closely with Government and Sport Ireland to reopen our sport as soon as possible, even on a restricted basis, in as safe a manner as possible.”

Cycling Ireland said the Level 5 restrictions means that people can only train solo and within 5km of home.

Biking club sessions can continue for school-aged children (max pod of 15).

Epidemiologist Prof Sam McConkey said the decision was the correct one. He said “Golfgate” and the recent example of a golfing outing in Tullamore, which led to 20 positive cases, demonstrated the problem.

“The problem is not the golf. On a technical level it is not an issue in relation to Covid-19. It is the socialising before it and afterwards. I’m really sorry to say that the socialisation gave golf a bad name,” he said.

“As we have seen with the GAA, it wasn’t the 30 people running around the pitch that was the problem. It was the socialising afterwards.”