Friday, July 10, 2020

THE Kildare Nationalist received this letter from a GAA club player, from a club outside the county, detailing their worries about the return to play for the GAA. Are there players within Kildare who share the same concerns?

Photo: ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne


The GAA & L.G.F.A community has been very much put in a vulnerable position in regards to COVID-19. Up and down the country, clubs are back training with record turnouts at training and challenge games. My local club included. However, our health & safety is of major concern.

The current health questionnaire designed by the G.A.A organisation falls short at addressing the possibility of asymptomatic cases among the G.A.A and L.G.F.A community. There is major evidence to suggest asymptomatic cases among the world’s population which in effect highlights a major flaw in the G.A.A’s health & safety strategy for the members of our organisation. Social distancing is our only form of protection against an asymptomatic case but social distancing is impossible in a competitive Gaelic, hurling or camogie game.

We therefore deserve and must be obliged to be tested before club and county competitions begin. As a club player in my county I have witnessed first hand at a recent challenge game I played in, that these inadequate measures are not even being enforced. The crowd was certainly greater than one hundred, was not socially distancing and was populated with a large number of those from the vulnerable age bracket. A record number of prodigal-son like substitutes were crammed into dug-outs like peas in pods. Let’s not forget to mention the obvious; the sheer grit and tenacity that was seen on the field as players fought in close proximity for that edge to win. As players we need to be tested. We deserve peace of mind when we play our national sport. Our families deserve peace of mind.

If testing of our organisation members does not occur, we could potentially repeat the same mistakes that had cost the many lives of our loved ones in nursing homes and residential care homes when COVID-19 hit Ireland first. Right now, this is a local community disaster waiting to happen, a ticking time bomb that could decimate our beloved community spirit unless action is taken now.

There must be a strategy implemented between the H.S.E, G.A.A and the Irish Government in order to coordinate an effective response to this ticking time bomb. I propose two potential solutions.

  1. As of March 23rd, there were over 30 testing centres across the country. According to the G.A.A website there are over 2,200 clubs in all 32 counties which gives an average of 73 clubs per testing centre. If there is an average of 225 members per club (2015 500,000+members). This gives an average of 16,425 tests per centre. Paul Reid (HSE) stated on May 17th that the HSE could provide 100,000 per week. Certainly, my assumptions of my logic are based on 30 testing centres (some testing centres have since closed) and 500,000+members(Membership has most certainly grown since 2015). Nevertheless, it is very much possible under a co-ordinated government programme to test all club members within 5-6 weeks if not sooner.
  2. An Irish grown start-up called LetsGetChecked set up by Peter Foley provides home testing kits to test for COVID-19. They provide onsite testing events across the country and are delivering FDA authorized home testing services. It is the only company in the world that is capable of providing complete testing service in the home-FDA registered manufacturing facilities for authorized sample collection devices, in-house clinical teams with telehealth support, lab testing and results delivered through a patient-facing mobile app within 24-28 hours. They have a capacity of 50,000 samples per day and continue to build upon it. Test kits are priced at 129$ per unit (€114.72). If the government was to subsidise half the cost of a unit, and the company is in a situation to satisfy demand, the G.A.A would be in a suitable position to finance this option given the GAA have a net cash inflow of $32 million as of October 2019(not to mention the relief they received from the Irish Government). This is a brilliant avenue to pursue where testing can be done from the comfort of someone’s home rather than putting increased logistical pressure on testing centres across Ireland.

As you can see there is both a private & public strategy with the 1st option most likely taking preference given the infrastructure is already in place. It is very much possible to combine both strategies. All it needs is execution from the G.A.A and H.S.E combined with increased pressure from the Irish Government.

I have also written to the GAA outlining my issues with their strategy and I was returned with this response that has me gravely concerned.

“The matter of Testing for Gaelic players was considered as part of the recommendations for return to activity by the GAA’s Covid Advisory Group. It was agreed that it was not a route the Association would be going down.  The current control measures which the GAA have put in place were approved by the Government’s Expert Group on Return to Sport and the Association is satisfied that these measures are appropriate to the challenge we face in this context. “

I think we need to be very very careful in declaring our satisfaction with the current measures in place. There are major inconsistencies and incorrect assumptions made in NPHET’s criteria for approval for return to sport which I will outline below.

-Inconsistency is evident in NPHET criteria for “return to sport” through it’s approval of both the GAA & FAI health and safety measures for COVID. FAI included testing of their members in their health and safety measures but the GAA has not. Why is this the case and why were both approved?

– On a separate note, has there been any effort to set up an audit of the GAA’s control measures at all? From my perspective the current GAA measures are not even being enforced.

-Information about the virus has changed since the GAA health and safety strategy was approved. The following evidence suggests it. In a Q&A session with the WHO a representative Van Kerkhove said this

“The majority of transmission that we know about is that people who have symptoms transmit the virus to other people through infectious droplets,” Van Kerkhove said. “But there are a subset of people who don’t develop symptoms, and to truly understand how many people don’t have symptoms, we don’t actually have that answer yet.”

The validity of this evidence above relies solely on the credibility of the WHO which should be what NPHET base their assumptions and opinions off which I believe they do. This statement clearly defines the evidence of asymptomatic cases. There are plenty more scientific sources available on the web to backup this claim. This is the evidence you require to find that GAA control measures are substandard to WHO’s guidance and need to be reassessed by NPHET. The GAA’s measures were implemented in May. This statement of WHO was released in June.

Regardless of this evidence, evidence of asymptomatic transmission was debated by scientists at the time of approval in May. The GAA did consider testing and then chose to ignore it and in essence chose to ignore uncertainty and chose to ignore the worst case scenario that an asymptomatic case could create in the GAA community. This is unacceptable and this mindset is highly correlated with NPHETs initial mindset that led to the failings that we saw in our nursing homes and residential care homes.

The potency or transmission rate of an asymptomatic case is unknown as of yet according to WHO. Nevertheless, it highlights an incorrect assumption in the health and safety strategy of the GAA & LGFA and perhaps across the board for all current institution health and safety strategies made prior to WHO’s findings here.

Certainly, this evidence undermines the credibility of NPHET in the criteria used to approve the GAA & LGFA health and safety strategy. It calls it into question. It is simply substandard now.

Likely the two metre distancing rule would be justified by NPHET as protection against an asymptomatic case (but even this is called into question due to rising evidence to suggest air-bourne transmission) which would most likely add credibility to most health & safety strategies of Irish Institutions, but this is impossible in a game of Gaelic football, hurling or camogie. Why have our health experts not made the GAA aware of this evidence? Here’s the evidence! Evidence confirmed as of June. It is now July. The health & safety strategy of the GAA is substandard and out of date. It is putting all players at risk of asymptomatic transmission. Does NPHET have to be reminded of this? If so, then it is up to our TDs to remind them of this.

The fact of the matter is that an asymptomatic case is probable to exist within the G.A.A community, albeit of course I don’t have evidence to suggest how high a probability. However, why are we taking the risk of not testing G.AA & L.G.F.A players and risk repeating the same failings that caused devastation among our residential care homes? Surely the forecasting ability of NPHET should be something we should all be skeptical of because of this awful fact.

In my view, satisfaction of these GAA measures is ignorance to NPHET inconsistency in its approach to the “return to sport” programme and ignorance to the potentially dangerous scenarios that this virus could create through asymptomatic transmission.

I hope you can relate to my frustration at our lack of proactivity in this area. I believe we should never wait for the situation to deteriorate before NPHET step in to reassess measures. This is futile and puts lives at risk and gives too much power to this uncertain virus.

The GAA’s measures approved in May by NPHET need reassessment for testing to be enforced among players.

We are players but most of all brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers. We deserve to be protected. We deserve to be tested. We want change.

With Kind Regards,

A Concerned Club Player

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