Cork Harlequins dismayed over Hockey Ireland’s Covid sanctions
Women’s side handed 5-0 defeats for two matches for not fulfilling fixtures
Harlequins player Cliodhna Sargent has expressed disappointment over Hockey Ireland’s decision to sanction her side. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Cork Harlequins have reacted with dismay over being sanctioned by Hockey Ireland (HI) this week for not fulfilling two fixtures before the recent lockdown. The women’s senior team, who play in the top division of the national league, have been handed 5-0 defeats for two matches to which they did not travel due to coronavirus concerns.
“It is very disappointing to feel that your organisation isn’t willing to listen to you and is actually willing to punish you for putting the health and the welfare of your players ahead of anything else,” said Irish international and Harlequins player Cliodhna Sargent.
Harlequins made the decision not to travel to away games on September 26th against Muckross in Dublin and on October 10th at Belfast Harlequins. The Cork team had seemingly been given a reprieve and the sanctions “suspended”.
However, Muckross lodged an appeal over the decision and Harlequins have now been disciplined and drop to the bottom of the table. Cork C of I and UCC, in division two of the National League, have also been sanctioned.
According to Harlequins, the club informed HI on the week of the match that they had “huge” concerns about travelling to Dublin to play Muckross on September 26th. On the Friday, Harlequins say they informed HI they would not travel. Hours later they say HI brought out a list of sanctions aimed at clubs that did not travel.
“We had been in contact with HI since probably July voicing our concerns over the season,” says Sargent. “We could see that the pandemic was not under control and wondering how we were going to be able to travel to games.
“All we were receiving back was ‘we are running our competition in line with the guidelines we have received from Sport Ireland or the expert group. There was nothing that opened the line of communications.
“It was a group consensus. This was genuinely a risk to the health of us as a group. But it just seems Hockey Ireland don’t grasp that whatsoever.’”
Last month Sport’s Minister Jack Chambers was asked by The Irish Times if it was appropriate clubs should be punished if they had health concerns over participation in competitions.
In an email he said: “The Return to Sport Expert Group has consistently emphasised to national governing bodies and local sports partnerships that the return to training and competition should be on an opt-in basis.
“I am pleased that the expert group has advised that athletes and teams should not be penalised if they wish to opt-out of activity. I know also that Sport Ireland has had direct contact with Hockey Ireland in this regard.”
What has happened is HI have applied their rules of appeal and made a decision on the basis of a set of bylaws where “suspended” sanctions are not mentioned. The panel’s view is that any team entering a competition must abide by the rules. Harlequins did agree to play. Then, after health considerations they opted out.
The question is how the sanctions square with the ministerial thinking of “teams should not be penalised if they wish to opt-out of activity”.
“It’s not a normal situation,” says Sargent. “This is completely and utterly different to anything else the country has experienced. People are having concerns about their health and HI are telling them go against those concerns and travel even at the risk of ending up sick or out of work or out of school or passing it on to others.
“It seems like they have no perspective outside of ‘we are going to run our league and it is going ahead’.”