Next week on May 18th, the Elm Park club in Dublin can open its doors to tennis players and golfers, the only difference being members of 70-years-old or more may play a round of golf but they may not play tennis on the same premises.
Tennis Ireland chief executive Richard Fahey explained on Monday that the interpretation of the Government guidelines is not intended to discriminate against the older age group but for now they will stay in place, entirely for health and wellbeing reasons.
“We are operating in a situation where we are looking at the documents Government are producing and having to interpret them,” said the Tennis Ireland chief executive.
“We have taken an interpretation that people who are over 70-years-old are not just in a risk group but a very high risk group and that’s what is outlined in the road map for return.
“Basically we have taken the view that on the basis of current Government policy over 70s should still be cocooning. While the cocooning restrictions have outlined that if you have a garden or balcony, you can spend some time in fresh air and you can also go out for a short walk or drive. But it also says avoid gatherings.
"We had a phone call with the Minister [of state for sport] Mr Brendan Griffin on Friday. A number of sports were online. One of the challenges for sport particularly now as we are opening up is that there is no chain of approval mechanism in place to review the guidelines by the different sports."
Fahey explained that the older age grouping were not the only cohort that have had restrictions placed on them. Junior members of under 18-years are not permitted to play tennis with each other, while coaches attached to the clubs are not expected to arrive for work if they live outside the five kilometre zone.
“We are aware that there is an issue,” he said. “Over 70s feel they should be allowed to go out and play tennis. But they are not the only group that is restricted in this phase. We have put down that under 18s must have a parent or guardian in attendance.
“Our coaches should not be travelling beyond five kilometres in the first phase (of opening). There are restrictions that are in place and we have interpreted the health policy to mean that people over 70 should be avoiding gatherings and if they are exercising the should be exercising alone.
“You can’t play tennis on your own. In golf for example you can. You can play golf on your own and there is no issue. We have taken a different interpretation to what golf has taken. We say that to support their [over 70s] health and their wellbeing and for no other reasons.”
Fahey added that if Government policy changes in any way tennis can too as all restrictions are a work in progress and can evolve with changing thinking and public health imperatives.
“Our guidelines are a live document and they will evolve if we hear back that there is no reason why over 70s can’t play,” he said.
“The challenge for ourselves or golf or other sports to come down the line at this moment in time is in that there isn’t an approval process or chain of approval. We have asked the Minister to put that in place and he has taken it away to try and find that. When we do get that and it means a change in our guidelines we will pass it on and we will be happy to do so.”