The GAA’s decision to suspend all club championships is bad. You could tell it was a bad one because the crew that picked Croke Park’s last bad idea related to Covid-19 went for that too.
John Horan’s declaration that there would be no more games until the virus was out of the way? Do you remember the people who lined up to praise his “leadership”? You support the great man again.
The president’s last bad idea would have been a virtual death knell for the association. Fortunately, he changed his mind shortly thereafter. But it won’t be so easy to row back on this one. Therefore, the GAA administrative committee shouldn’t have made a hasty decision on Monday morning.
While these incidents were unfortunate, they would not have generated so many negative comments on any other Sunday. But it was Blackrock’s calamity in particular, at a time of widespread panic over the news that Nphet was recommending a level five lockdown, was the focus of social media attention.
The feverish atmosphere led to a search for scapegoats and the fans of Blackrock, Ratoath and Gaeil Colmcille were perfect fall folks. There were suggestions, some of those who had been waiting for this opportunity, that the lockdown would be the fault of the GAA.
This appears to have spooked the GAA hierarchy into a decision no less unexpected than the leaked Nphet recommendation. The Club Players’ Association has described it as unfair. At least it was extremely premature.
Why did the decision have to be made on Monday? Wouldn’t it have been wiser to wait a few days if very few games were played by the weekend?
The GAA said they were “acting in the interests of public safety following a number of incidents that have come to our attention in recent days. In particular, post-game celebrations and the lack of social distancing at events have proven disappointing and problematic. ”
This decision is a spectacular turnaround for the club. Just a few weeks ago, it reacted outraged when Nphet refused to increase the number of games allowed in games from 200 to 400, and even asked acting Chief Medical Officer Ronan Glynn to explain himself.
GAA folks were particularly disdainful of Nphett’s implication that small crowds at large stadiums couldn’t be properly socially distanced and that pre- and post-game gatherings of fans had the potential to create a public health problem.
Now the association has suddenly admitted that Dr. Glynn and his cohorts were right. This may only seem academic as we will no doubt be in another lockdown soon. However, the decision of the GAA has significant implications for the future.
Placing the blame for stopping activities on “disappointing and problematic” behavior is a declaration that the GAA has no control over its members. Rather than sanction those responsible, the GAA says the only solution is to shut down club games en masse.
This means that the next time the number of Covid-19 cases drops, the association will no longer have a foothold if it is committed to letting fans into the grounds. All Nphet needs to do is point out the GAA’s October 5th approval which inevitably creates public health problems.
So it is fair to say that Croke Park has lost the argument of allowing a limited number of fans to play GAA games. This will not happen while the virus is active, which may be for many years to come. The GAA inflicted this wound on itself.
It may also have faced more serious problems. Given that the Sunday night celebrations made it appear that the GAA had no choice but to cancel all club activities, how can they justify hosting the All-Ireland Championships if Nphet objects?
If the organization is unable to monitor behavior at the club level, how can it be allowed to host inter-county games? If the GAA’s only response to the county graduation ceremony is to declare itself helpless, Nphet may ask what it can do about the much larger public gatherings to celebrate the final victories of the province or all of Ireland. According to the logic of Monday, the GAA can only take one step “in the interests of public safety”.
In their rush to protect themselves from criticism, the GAA not only made a great rod for their own back, but also the many clubs that behaved well under the bus. Not all clubs behaved like Blackrock or the Meath finalists or Dungarvan, who fielded a player who was waiting for the result of a Covid test in the inter-soccer final at Waterford last weekend.
Blackrock may have got its fans out on the streets, but Charleville, who won the Cork Senior A Hurling title that same day, asked them to stay home and enjoy a virtual celebration. The saddest thing about the general ban on the GAA is that it is portrayed by its critics as a collective admission of guilt and as evidence that the club championships have made a significant contribution to the second wave of Covid.
Croke Park didn’t have to go that route. They could have imposed severe sanctions on any club that had committed serious violations and tried to properly enforce the rules. The prospect of their club being excluded from the championship next year would certainly give the most partisan fans food for thought. Such punishments might have been harsh, but they would have been much less harsh for everyone than suspension.
It could be argued that the GAA’s decision is definitely correct as the number of Covid cases has increased. But the numbers had risen significantly over the past week and club games were still being played across the country last weekend. The overturn decision seems inextricably linked to the excitement over a level five lockdown, which did not occur.
You can’t be too critical of the GAA to misunderstand it. Getting it wrong has been part of Covid’s collective experience from the start. This is what happens when you are faced with something completely unprecedented.
It is noteworthy, for example, that the leaders of the three major parties have all committed the last lockdown. Micheál Martin went to his holiday home in Courtmacsherry, Mary Lou McDonald went to Bobby Storey’s funeral in Belfast, and Leo Varadkar had a picnic in Phoenix Park.
Partisans of all three would argue that their injury was more understandable and less serious than that of the other two. But none of them deserved to be dragged over their coals. They have committed these rather minor violations, not because they are part of a corrupt political class, but because they are like the rest of us.
The blocking rules were enforced by people on the street and on the beach, in and out of pubs, by people on the right at anti-mask demos, and by people on the left at Black Lives Matter demonstrations by the most privileged sector of society broken at the Oireachtas Golf Society event and most marginalized at the rave in Oliver Bond Flats. Few people achieved 100 percent compliance.
That doesn’t make us an irresponsible society. Almost everyone has almost always tried to follow the rules. That’s not a bad accomplishment. This time, if you had told one of us, 12 months ago, that we could contain our normal behavior to this extent, we would not have thought we could do it.
So we should loosen up people a little when they deteriorate. That includes those supporters who were upset on social media last Sunday. Before that it was students at the Spanish Arch, and next it will be someone else. The appetite of the lynch mob is insatiable. Twitter is essentially Pornhub for moody people. The GAA shouldn’t have noticed.
In the words of the Director of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “Pointing a finger will not prevent a single infection. Sharing the blame will not save a single life. ”It is nonsense to hold certain people responsible for the spread of an infectious disease. There are no major culprits, no major event, no key moment responsible for the second rise in Covid-19. It would always happen.
The game that we really have to cancel is not soccer or hurling or camogie, but the blame game. The fans of this one do more damage than any other.
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