TWO GAA members from Donegal are starting a campaign aimed at having outdoor training for children included in the Irish Government’s Living with Covid plan, which is set to be released next week.
Darren Farnan and Damian Dowds, who are both members of the An Beart club, are calling on grassroot members to send letters to An Taoiseach Micheál Martin stating that they would like to see a resumption of outdoor training for children of all sports.
Although the Living with Covid plan is not expected to include specific dates, the organisers hope that it will add pressure to the government to at least address the issue in their announcement.
It comes on the back of a similar campaign in the north last week spear-headed by former Armagh defender Aidan O’Rourke, the performance sports manager at Queen’s University.
A letter, signed by some 80 prominent sportspeople, was sent to the Stormont Executive demanding “immediate action to mandate the resumption of youth sport in Covid-safe environments so as to begin to address the wellbeing crisis among our young people.”
Now Farnan and Dowds are hoping to have similar success with their grassroots campaign on the other side of the border.
“The Covid crisis is hard for everyone, but it is especially difficult for children who have been denied the ability to mix and play with their peers,” their letter to the An Taoiseach reads.
“The winter weather and dark evenings, not to mention the easy attractions of electronic devices, has made it incredibly difficult to have children come anywhere close to meeting their recommended 60 minutes of activity per day.
“The resumption of school, combined with a managed return to collective outdoor exercise, will be transformative for children.
“The six-week lockdown last October-November made provision for non-contact outdoor exercise in pods of 15 for children of school-going age and I appeal to you to include that in the new Living with Covid plan.”
Expanding further to Gaelic Life, the organisers said that the threat of screen-time dominating over exercise was what sparked them into action – especially as they feel that there is a chance that some children may never return to organised sport.
“We’re very concerned that the lack of activity for youngsters will have a long-term impact on their physical and mental well-being with some possibly never participating in sports again,” they said.
“The efforts of many during 2020 to ensure children were kept safe during training and matches were overwhelming. It is recognised by the health authorities that minimal outbreaks occurred as a result of children’s sports and yet we find a return to play for the GAA community in 2021 has been kicked past Easter.
“Therefore, we’re instigating a campaign this week to put pressure on the Irish Government and our aim is that a national push from grassroots will encourage the Government to include non-contact outdoor exercise/training in the Plan for Living with Covid-19.
“The main aim of the campaign is to encourage parents to send a letter to the Taoiseach’s office. If we manage to secure enough support, the Taoiseach will have no choice but to listen to the will of the people.
“In turn, we anticipate the GAA will review its approach and allow youngsters to return to the pitch for training during March, in a safe and managed way.
“This should pave the way for all sports, whether it’s GAA or soccer, hockey or golf, to return to action. We need our children back participating in sporting activities or the impact on their mental and physical well-being will be insurmountable.”