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OPINION: Big onus on sport to adhere fully to Covid-19 guidelines - Colm Kinsella

THE issue of the non-attendance of supporters at sports fixtures during the current Covid-19 pandemic has exercised the minds of many people in recent weeks and months.

Sport has always held a special place in Irish life and the period during which it was closed down due to Covid-19 was extremely difficult for many people.

Sport has obviously returned in the past two months or so, but fixtures are being staged behind closed doors now following a period in which a maximum of 200 people, including players, coaches, match officials and media were allowed attend.

The advent of the streaming of local fixtures in GAA and indeed soccer has provided stay-at-home fans with a welcome opportunity to see how their favourite team is getting on.

It also provides a much-needed revenue stream in the case of those fixtures where there is a pay-per-view element.

One of the aspects of the streaming service which is more difficult to understand is how it is deemed safer for people to congregate in a pub, albeit socially distanced, to watch a local sporting fixture on a TV screen, at the same time as it is not considered safe for supporters to attend the same fixture in a big venue in small numbers.

Sport is key to the mental and physical health of Irish people.

It is imperative that everyone involved in sport do their utmost to ensure that all public health guidelines relating to Covid-19 are followed before, during and after training sessions and fixtures.

There are anecdotal stories of a number of adult players arriving in a car together to attend games, when best practice says it should be one player to a car.

Also team huddles with close contact among players should not be taking place if regulations are to be fully adhered to. Sport is in bonus territory at this stage, really. It is important to keep remembering that.

Two and a half months ago it seemed highly unlikely that we would be able to enjoy any live sport - especially outside of the professional sphere - at all this year.

The fact that games are taking place has given a huge lift to hundreds of thousands of people all over the country. There is an onus on players, coaches and club officials to ensure that they don't do anything which could jeopardise the playing of sport in the weeks and months ahead.

Perhaps when we hit flu' season, sport will stop once again. But in the meantime everyone involved in sport needs to play their part to ensure the safety of everyone involved with it.

The decision to allow one adult to attend game with their young children is to be welcomed. The presence of a parent gives reassurance to a child and also allows a parent to keep an eye on how their son or daughter is progressing.

I have been fortunate to attend a good number of adult club GAA fixtures for work purposes over the past few months, a privilege I really enjoy and do not take lightly.

One of the many big changes which has taken place in relation to the playing of GAA games in the current era of Covid-19 is the introduction of the water break at the mid point in each half.

The referee stops the play at the point in which there is about to be a kick-out or puck-out for either side in order to allow players get a drink of water.

At the start it was my experience that water breaks were taking two to three minutes in effect. The length of the stoppage was somewhat understandable, I suppose, given the newness of the situation.

Coaches used the stoppage to convey some instructions to their players during the time of the break.
However, it has been noticeable in more recent weeks that the water break has now become shorter in duration in general.

Players know it's coming and are quickly over to the sideline. Coaches relay their message to the players and the action gets underway in a timely fashion.

The question of whether water breaks are actually needed is another debate worth having. The breaks do break the momentum for whichever side is on top in a game and might have the wind in their sails.

On the otherhand, the break can assist the side which is behind or struggling in a fixture. Teams and coaches now have to view a GAA club fixture as consisting of four quarters of 15 minutes rather than two halves of 30 minutes each.

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