The GPA Player Safety and Welfare Committee, through our medical advisor Dr Jim O Donavan, and I have been taking advice from Global Sports leaders through the World Players Association throughout the COVID-19 crisis. There have been two calls with the body since the pandemic offering a shared forum discussing different approaches to a safe return to play for their respective sports.
The calls have been very well attended with the leaders from players associations representing NFL, MLB, AFL, International Rugby, FIFPro and many other leading sports globally. The calls have included speakers ranging from Dr Annie Sparrow, Special Advisor to the Director-General of the WHO to Zach Binney, a leading epidemiologist at Emory University, USA.
Monday’s call, led by the NFLPA’s Medical Director Thom Mayer and Dr Ross D. Zafonte Chairman of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School, gave great insights into the NFL’s contingency plans. The NFLPA highlighted that:
- player health and safety are non-negotiable and
- they would go anywhere science would take them, but nowhere it doesn’t.
They went on to highlight how they are exploring a biodome (hubs) or mass quarantine options with extensive testing protocols. This idea may be unrealistic to the GAA, and there is a concern that the players would be put at higher risk without the additional protection of quarantine and continuous testing. However, the key message is that they are exploring all options, all eventualities, and they stress that evidence-based ideas will lead them.
The GPA feel it is essential that we too continue to explore all opportunities. Although the many differences between professional sports and amateur sports make it more challenging for the GAA to overcome, this information gathering will assist us in learning more about the virus and exploring all options to a safe return to play. All of this will align with the respective public health advice.
The dialogue between all sporting player associations emphasised the importance of players being at the centre of all return to play discussions. This point was supported by GPA members from the recent calls with squad reps and captains. There is a growing sense of impatience amongst players, which is understandable. Players want clarity around plans for the 2020 season. However, what is also clear is that you are in one hundred per cent agreement that public health advice and the safety of you, the players and your families is the number one priority.
We are in constant communication with the GAA. We are working closely with them to address your key concerns which were raised on those calls, i.e. clarity around the fixtures calendar, clarity around return to play protocols and transparency around the role of players in any decision-making process.
We will also provide the GAA with the information and learning from our advisors in the World Players Association.
We accept that the GAA can’t deliver certainty around fixtures at this time. It is a fluid and ever-changing situation. However, what we would like to see is some further clarity around the GAA’s contingency plans for the inter-county and club season. The close contact nature of the playing and training environment which surrounds our games presents a heightened risk to the welfare of players, and a considerable challenge to return to action while adhering to social distancing and public health guidelines. It is important that the GAA engage external expert medical advice, to formulate an evidence-informed decision on a safe return to play. We will continue to work with the GAA on this.
There remains the genuine possibility that we will not see any return to action this year, however. We hope that the situation will change in the coming months, but public health advice will be the guiding principle. I can assure you that we will not countenance a situation arising where players are asked to put themselves or their families and loved ones at undue risk. Your health and safety are non-negotiable.
It is our view that this current period should be used as downtime, with a break from inter-county commitments. Feedback from squads indicates that a lot of management teams are taking this approach, and we welcome this move. We will continue to give updates as the situation develops, there are no answers as of yet, but when we have further clarity, we will provide it.
The GPA remain here to support players. We have listened to our members and have tailored our support accordingly. Over 750 of you have taken part in our Time 2 Thrive webinar series, and the feedback indicates it has been very beneficial. Our coaching, counselling and other support services have all been tailored but remain available. Information on the webinars and the services available are available exclusively to our members on the GPA App. To get set up on the app please email firstname.lastname@example.org and reference the app.
This Thursday we begin our second series around mental fitness featuring former professional soccer player and mental health advocate Richie Sadlier and Clare hurling legend, Tony Griffin. He is the Founder of SOAR, the charity inspired by Jim Styne’s work. Both ‘in conversation with’ styled webinars will be thought-provoking and intrinsically motivating.
These series of talks tie in with a mental fitness advocacy campaign that we are launching with Pieta this week. There will be more details on this campaign in the days ahead. I would like to thank all the players who have given it their backing to this fantastic campaign so far.
The willingness to show leadership within your counties and your communities is something which I want to acknowledge again. Ranging from the fundraising to setting up skills challenges and to everything else in between, the way players from all counties have stepped up is something all within the GAA community are hugely proud of. We, at the GPA, are not surprised. We see that willingness to lead from players day in and day out; it is inspiring.
Finally, the very best of luck to all 32 players taking part in the All-Ireland FIFA20 Charity Tournament this weekend. We are delighted to partner with Joanne O’Riordan and Insomnia Dublin Gaming Festival to raise money for frontline working in both the HSE and NHS.
Many of our members and the WGPA’s members are working on the frontline. We are very proud of all their efforts.