What Does Social Distancing Mean For Sport This Year?

Sport is a huge part of people’s lives in Ireland. The current worldwide pandemic has put Irish sport on hold for the time being and has left people asking when sporting action will return. Last week, Leo Varadkar gave sports players and fans some optimism suggesting there will be a possibility of a return to sport in late summer. In the phase 4 category of the new roadmap, released by the government, sports leagues (Soccer, GAA) are outlined to recommence on July 20th with rugby in phase 5 of the government’s plans.  Over the coming weeks and months, all sporting organisations in Ireland will have to make the call on whether team contact sports will be a viable option for this year. While Covid-19 is still in existence in Ireland without a vaccine, are lives going to be at risk if contact sports are played where social distancing cannot be adhered to on the playing field?

The term social distancing is the new normal for people in Ireland. Keeping the two metre distance is vital in preventing the spread of the Coronavirus. Golf and tennis will be the first sports to come back on the island of Ireland on May 18th, in the first phase of the roadmap. Of course, people will have to keep their distance from each other while participating in their sport, which is possible in golf or tennis. The question is then asked, when will team contact sports be possible while social distancing is in place? If social distancing applies to the spectators watching a match, what about the players on the field of play? A lot of questions will continue to be asked and while the answers are near impossible to predict, most players know that their health and safety will always come first. That is a no brainer.

There has been the suggestion that the League of Ireland and All Ireland Championships could be played behind closed doors this year. Once again, the question is asked, what about the players playing the games?  If they were to contract Covid-19 on the playing field and were vulnerable to it or bring it home to a vulnerable family member, then if that individual were to sadly become critically ill or pass away, would it be really worth the risk?  Without proper and adequate testing, I am sure people would understand that people’s lives are the most important thing at the end of the day. We all live in hope that a vaccine will be found sooner rather than later and life will continue as normal but sometimes we just have to adapt to a new way of living for the time being. Realism comes into play when you hear the new figures for deaths and confirmed cases in Ireland each day. Thoughts go out to those affected by Covid-19.

All top European football leagues in the world are continuing to prepare for their return. Testing has been put in place for each team in their respective leagues. This is possible in top European professional leagues as there is a lot of money involved whether it is the players/managers wages and also league positions to be confirmed. The Dutch league (Eredivisie) and French League (Ligue 1) have both confirmed that they have cancelled their seasons. Both have taken different approaches on deciding their league table. The Eredivisie has taken the null and void approach whereas the Ligue 1 declared the league table, in its current position, as final resulting in PSG being declared champions once again. The German Bundesliga is due to commence this weekend despite reports of 3 Cologne players having tested positive for Covid-19 along with seven other cases within German clubs. This once again is another issue if we were to continue sport here too soon: if a player contracts the virus, which is very probable, does that team pull out of their competition? The English Premier League has taken its time to make a decision on their plans to continue. They remain undecided what their plan of action will be but many players have voiced their concern over return to action and putting their families at risk if they were to contract the virus. The English FA stand by finishing their season when it is suitable to do so.

As the League of Ireland is a semi professional league, it would be possible to bring in testing for players. But without fans, where will clubs get the finance to survive the season? Once again, all these issues are relatively small in the grand schemes of things and the most important thing at the moment is peoples’ health and safety. Social distancing looks likely to be here for the foreseeable future and the government has outlined that constantly. We still have a long way to go to defeat this virus so stay home, stay safe and keep to the government guidelines. Sport will be here when this virus no longer poses a threat to life: lives may not be. To all the frontline workers, we appreciate the work they are putting in and continue to do. One day, we will have sports to look forward to again and be able to play in a safe environment. 

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