Elite athletes still required to undergo 10-day mandatory quarantine
Minister says that outside of training the regime will be the same
Jack Chambers: “It is crucial we have an equivalent system that is of the same public health standard.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Under the current Government guidelines, elite athletes will still be forced to enter 10-day mandatory quarantine on return to Ireland. This would mean that the entire Leinster squad and management would not be allowed to return to their homes after the Champions Cup semi-final in La Rochelle on May 2nd.
“It is crucial we have an equivalent system that is of the same public health standard as the standard hotel quarantine regime but enables athletes and teams to continue to train and participate in sporting activity only,” said Jack Chambers, the Minister of State for Sport. “Athletes would be otherwise isolated; they could not go anywhere else or meet a family member for example. It is just to allow for their sporting activity.”
This means that Leinster will be permitted to train and, presuming there is no positive cases of Covid-19, travel to face Connacht at The Sportsground on Saturday, May 8th for the Rainbow Cup tie. Thereafter, they would still need to complete the 10 days of quarantine. It is unclear if players will be permitted to train or interact with team-mates who did not travel to France.
Also, as it stands, the IRFU and Leinster Branch would have to cover the cost of quarantining almost 50 players and staff.
The IRFU, when contacted by The Irish Times, had yet to receive final plans from the Government.
“The final details are still being worked on,” said Chambers, “but what we are seeking to put in place is an equivalent system to mandatory hotel quarantine for the purposes of allowing for our high-performance athletes to continue to train and participate in international events.
“Working within the regulations that the Minister for Health is bringing in, if the travel is essential, the relevant governing body will have to submit a request to Sport Ireland who will work with the HSE. Their approval will be based on satisfactory quarantine arrangements that meet the standard being agreed upon arrival in Ireland.
“There will be very strict and clear protocols in place with an approval process that is underpinned by public health.”
This will present difficulties for Leinster players with young families. The four Irish provinces have gone through a rigorous weekly testing regime since the pandemic brought sport to a halt in March 2020. Many of their international players have not seen extended family, even when the Government eased restrictions, to ensure the spread of infection did not lead to further matches being postponed.
The Irish women’s squad will not be impacted by these protocols as their next away match on April 24th is in the UK, where there are no hotel quarantine restrictions into or out of Ireland.
“Many of our Olympians and Paralympians who are trying to qualify for the Games later in the summer still have to qualify,” Chambers continued. “There’s an event for example for Paralympic classification in Italy mid-April. If an athlete is due to participate in that, on their return they have a requirement to continue their training so they can prepare for the Games themselves. So what we’ll be putting in place is a very clear system underpinned by public health which is a comparative system to mandatory quarantine.
“The only exception is that they’re allowed to continue to train. But the same principles apply. They won’t be allowed to interact with the broader public or won’t be able to go to the shop for example. So we’re putting in place a very robust system that allows them to continue their specific sporting activity but that we’re still upholding public health.
“Sport Ireland are engaging with hotel providers, for example, so that we do uphold that public health rationale and that principle.
“There may be governing bodies that present a plan that doesn’t meet that equivalence, and if they don’t then they won’t be given the certification to continue that activity.
“There’ll be absolute oversight of that just to be clear, our athletes will only be enabled to continue their specific training activity, there has to be absolute adherence to that and any breach will be taken very seriously.”