John Horan: Gaelic games retain same status despite loss of Level 5 Covid exemption

Outgoing president tells congress decision was ‘purely operational’ due to player numbers

Outgoing GAA president John Horan reassured Saturday’s remote annual congress that there had been no loss of status for Gaelic games inherent in the recently announced Government decision to withdraw their Level 5 exemption.

“I did ask the minister for an explanation; I put this in the public domain. He said at the time it was professional sports that could operate in a bubble environment and it was felt that we would be more challenged in that.

“If you take it in the context of rugby, the four provincial teams which make up the international team would probably be about 250 players and the League of Ireland would have similarly low numbers.

“Our multiples would be up around 20 times that.

“There’s no loss of our standing with the Government in terms of Sport Ireland, the Government or anything like that. It was purely an operational decision made on the basis of where we are as a country in the pandemic. We have no need to have any concern.

“We’re still regarded and I’ll be quite honest with you, even if I do say so myself on behalf of the GAA, I think we outshone every sporting organisation in the country in the last 12 months so I would have no concerns of that. I think it’s a bit of a red herring and it’s been stirred up somewhat by intercounty managers.”

He was replying to comments by former president Seán Kelly in the discussion of DG Tom Ryan’s annual report.

Kelly responded to the reassurances by clarifying his concerns that the GAA was in some way being blamed for the spread of coronavirus.

“Other sports were allowed to play: rugby, athletics last weekend in Abbotstown; the FAI starting shortly. So it’s not a question of whether they’re elite or not. It’s a matter of why we are not regarded by the same measure as the others, which we were until that decision was made.

“So I want to know, were the GAA informed of this - who made the recommendation? And on what scientific basis?

“That’s the point I want to make because you’re right that we don’t have elite players but we do have as dedicated players and as fit as any professionals and that was recognised up until that decision was made.

“So I think we should be looking to have that decision reversed as soon as possible because it was a downgrading of our intercounty players and I think as Tom said we handled the championship very well last year. It was for the wellbeing of the entire country. We can do so again.

“There were no great instances (of Covid) but by putting us on a different level to rugby, soccer, athletics etc, it’s more or less saying that they can go ahead and have no problem with Covid but if the GAA goes ahead there’s going to be a problem.

“That’s blaming the GAA by implication and that’s not fair.”

Horan reacted by rejecting the implication, saying that it had never been part of his discussions with Government.

“There was never any blame, never any criticism. I’ve tried to make the point that they made it very clear that those that could function in a bubble environment because we were operating in a pandemic - we were given special exemption if you go back and look at the documents last year. Intercounty was listed on its own; it wasn’t part of the elite term.

“They have made a decision in the department and I’ll be quite honest with you that our Covid Advisory group were quite happy that we weren’t back playing. The virus level is too high in the country and our players are mingling far too much in society because unlike those other sports who can withdraw from interaction with society, our 5,000 players across three codes (men and women) would all be just working on a daily basis.”