IRFU complains over lockdown rules for GAA and rugby

Olympic 2024 hopefuls lobby for exemptions, saying rules affect medal potential

The Olympic Federation of Ireland has sought exemptions from Covid-19 restrictions amid concerns that elite athletes being unable to train could negatively affect Ireland’s medal prospects at the 2024 Paris games.

While preparations are ongoing for this summer’s postponed Olympics in Tokyo, federation chief executive Peter Sherrard fears Ireland’s hopes of victory in Paris could be damaged by the impact of the curbs.

He raised the issue of exemptions in a letter to Minister of State for Sport Jack Chambers in December, which was among correspondence from sports organisations to the Government released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Among them was a letter from the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) asking that schools and club rugby matches be allowed to resume under Level 3 restrictions.


Mr Sherrard and federation president Sarah Keane wrote to Mr Chambers saying that despite the postponement of the Tokyo games, the development of athletes for Paris was “hugely important” and exemptions for them were sought.

The Department of Sport last night said the matter remains under consideration. A spokesman referred to the surge in the virus in the weeks after the federation’s letter and said it was “not considered appropriate to expand the numbers of athletes and teams permitted to train”.

Mr Sherrard told The Irish Times that exemptions are needed for between 150 and 200 sportspeople including younger athletes who will not compete this summer but hope to go to Paris. He said the exemptions would allow them access to facilities for elite athletes as well as being able to travel more than 5km to attend training sessions. Athletes who are currently allowed to train do so under strict protocols that include Covid-19 testing.

Mr Sherrard said some Paris hopefuls have been accommodated within groups training for Tokyo, However, he added “younger athletes that are potentially tracking towards Paris are suffering and consequently our medal prospects for Paris would be suffering as a result”.

Rugby activity

Separately, IRFU chief executive Philip Browne wrote to Mr Chambers and Minister for Sport Catherine Martin at the start of December as pandemic restrictions were being eased.

He pointed to reports that GAA under-20 and minor teams would be allowed to resume competitive fixtures. The resumption of these games was later halted when restrictions were reimposed under the current lockdown on December 23rd.

In his letter, Mr Browne said there should be a “speedy reconsideration of allowing increased rugby activity during Level 3 restrictions” and that the IRFU believed it could deliver a safe environment for school and club teams to train and play matches in.

“It seems concessions are being made to other sports to allow matches to be played in Level 3 yet the same is apparently not the case for rugby. We cannot stress enough the negative impact that this news has had on our rugby community which is already in a fragile condition.”

Last week the IRFU cancelled the men’s and women’s All-Ireland League season in what is seen as an enormous blow for the amateur game.

The department spokesman said the IRFU’s request is still under consideration in the event of a return to Level 3 restrictions in the future.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times