Ministers made aware of Cork hockey clubs’ concerns about travel to away games

Hockey Ireland issue provisional sanctions to three women’s teams for not fulfilling fixtures

Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

It is understood that Fianna Fáil's Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Michael McGrath and Jack Chambers, Minister of State for Sport and Gaeltacht Affairs have been alerted to the health concerns of players in Cork-based hockey clubs, Cork Church of Ireland, Cork Harlequins and UCC about travelling to away matches.

In a growing dispute that does not look like ending soon, Hockey Ireland (HI) on Tuesday issued provisional sanctions against the senior women's teams at the three Cork clubs for not fulfilling fixtures.

Players, citing health fears, did not travel for the opening round of the EY National Hockey League because of Covid-19 concerns. The sanction of a 5-0 defeat and the forfeiting of home advantage for the return fixture against each non-travelling club will apply if there is a subsequent breach of rules. It comes as a second member of the Cork C of I women’s squad has tested positive for the Covid-19 virus. The player felt unwell on Saturday and was tested at the weekend.

In a reply from Minister Chambers to correspondence from Minister McGrath’s office it is stated that Sport Ireland has issued guidelines over returning to play during the pandemic and have explicitly said athletes should not be penalised.


On Sport Ireland's website under 'Opt In Basis' it states: "The Return to Sport Expert Group has communicated to National Governing Bodies and Local Sports Partnerships that the return to training and competition should be on an opt-in basis, with participants taking personal responsibility to decide whether they are happy to return.

“It is important that athletes are not be penalised if they wish to opt-out of activity. Participants should be encouraged to communicate any concerns to their club and/or National Governing Body so that they can be addressed accordingly.”

The correspondence from Minister Chambers added that clubs must make submissions to the sport’s EY Working Group and a final decision will be made by the group.

The clubs say travelling to fulfil fixtures in Dublin and Northern Ireland is a health threat and contrary to the Government messaging for people to stay within their own localities, while the sport's governing body is saying teams must travel or face punishment that could involve club fines and ultimately expulsion from the competition.

Government sources indicated on Monday that tighter restrictions are expected in Border counties within days, with Dublin also coming under scrutiny following a resurgence of infections over the past three days.

A number of levels of hockey have been permitted to travel within the Government rules. Many of the women’s matches will include Irish players bound for next summer’s Olympic Games.

Last weekend Cork C of I men donned masks in protest before their Irish Senior Cup match against Dublin club Portrane, which they fulfilled under threat of HI sanctions. Dublin side Rathgar chose not to cross the border to play against Belfast side, Instonians.

The IHL Working Group, while acknowledging the concerns raised by each club, were of the opinion that the following fixtures should have been fulfilled on Saturday, September 26th: Cork Harlequins v Muckross; Church of Ireland v Monkstown and UCC v Trinity and the Cork Harlequins v Belfast Harlequins game on Saturday, October 10th.

The same dilemma will arise this weekend as Cork C of I men are scheduled to play away against Dublin club Rathgar. Players have also complained about being asked to drive from Cork to Dublin individually without stopping and with little consideration given to the possibility of injured players having to drive home. No shower facilities or changing rooms can be provided.

HI say their decisions are based on a number of considerations including the clearance received from Sport Ireland for the league to proceed under current Covid-19 restrictions and the clarification received in relation to travel.

Covid-19 protocols have also been undertaken by each host club to ensure as safe an environment as possible, under the circumstances, for the participating teams.

HI added that on each of the above occasions Cork Harlequins, Church of Ireland, and UCC were instructed that the fixtures should proceed and on each occasion these clubs declined to comply with the instruction.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times