The impact of COVID-19 on Elite Sport in Ireland

Jessica Woodlock

Like most industries these days, Ireland’s sporting sector has been under threat, due to the financial and challenging circumstances that have come about in recent months.

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted sporting events across the nation but some good news was granted to fans, players and coaches alike, when it was announced that elite sports could continue under the new level 5 restrictions in Ireland.

Elite sporting athletes are considered those who, “participate within a high performance team”, “compete at major international events” and who “participate within professional competition,” according to SportIreland.ie.

In a press release issued by the Government Press Office, it also confirmed that “inter-county Gaelic games, horse-racing and greyhound racing are being permitted to continue”.

The news was welcomed by teams, many of whom have had their sporting seasons already postponed and in recent months have just gotten back on track with training.

Irish Rugby’s delayed Six Nations season is continuing as planned, as well as the UEFA Champions League and FAI Cup games, albeit behind closed doors.

The Republic of Ireland have had their soccer season disrupted with games being cancelled across the board due to travel restrictions and players unable to play because of COVID-19 contact tracing safety measures.

The FAI have extended the 2020 League of Ireland season by a week to allow fixtures that were postponed to be played.

The First Division will now conclude on Tuesday the 27th of October, while the Premier Division will finish up on Sunday the 8th of November.

Similarly, the IRFU have been hit with more disappointment caused by Rugby Europe’s decision to cancel all women’s fixtures due to take place between now and the end of year.

The Irish Women’s Rugby team were due to play three teams in December, to decide who would take the final place available for the World Cup, which takes place in New Zealand next year.

That competition has now been postponed, with no dates set yet for when the matches will be played.

One of the biggest consequences of this pandemic on sports in Ireland is the financial situation many associations have found themselves in.

As a result of the lack of spectators allowed at sporting events, there has been a distinct lack of money coming into the IRFU, GAA and FAI.

The IRFU struck a deal with Rugby Players Ireland which saw elite players take a 10% salary reduction and a 10% deferral in their incomes from July 1st to December 31st.

However further pay cuts have not been ruled out, according to IRFU Chief Executive Philip Browne.

At the time when the crisis first hit in March, everyone thought – ‘well we’ll be back training in June and we’ll be playing out the end of the season in July and August.’ That’s all changed now” he told OfftheBall.ie.

Of course non-elite sports in Ireland have also taken the brunt of the hit with the new restrictions.

Basketball Ireland and the Golf Union of Ireland are among those who have expressed their disappointment at not being allowed to play, despite extensive measures being put in place.

Jessica Woodlock

Image Credit: Connacht Telegraph