Leo Varadkar stabbed the GAA in the back. This was not leadership but the crassest kind of opportunism

The GAA did not cause the second wave of Covid-19. In the past week there have been record numbers of cases in Poland, Russia, the Czech Republic, France, Holland, Germany, Italy and Switzerland. Few if any county finals have been played in these countries.

o one is to blame for the fact that the virus is following the same pattern in Ireland as almost everywhere else in Europe. Not the GAA, not youngsters at house parties, not students at the Spanish Arch, not South William Street hipsters, not Oliver Bond Flats ravers, not the Berlin barman, American tourists in MAGA hats, Black Lives Matter marchers, fascist anti-maskers, people going to their holiday homes, people who went to Cheltenham, golfers, beef barons, politicians, health administrators or anyone else who’s done a stint in the scapegoat’s chair since the beginning of the pandemic.

Covid-19 is simply a force of nature.

It’s hard to accept but the awful truth is that we can’t do much more than slow the spread of the virus. The idea that Ireland might emulate dictatorships like China or Vietnam, who have long experience in controlling their population to an extent unthinkable in democratic countries, or a uniquely isolated nation like New Zealand is a fantasy.

So is the notion that we could copy a ‘full steam ahead and let the old take their chances’ approach which isn’t really what’s happening in Sweden anyway. Hopes that either a vaccine or herd immunity might be imminent are just more wishful thinking. There’s no handy way out of this one.

The desire to find someone to blame is perhaps understandable. Yet it’s beyond ludicrous to suggest that a few post-match celebrations, foolish though they were, are the primary drivers of a surge which merely mirrors a continent-wide trend.

This hasn’t stopped a sizable cohort from using the GAA as a punchbag over the past week. That’s an awful pity. Because few organisations have had the same profoundly benign effect on Irish society as the GAA. It has been a provider of recreation and enjoyment to young and old, a creator and enhancer of community spirit, an unrivalled machine for the production of joy which has done more to improve the mental and physical health of the nation than a hundred government campaigns ever could have.

To see it portrayed in some quarters as a kind of malign fifth column has been surprising. And also deeply hurtful to the many people who have given untold unpaid hours of their lives to the GAA in the belief that by doing so they were making their country a better place. The unfairness has been astounding.

Those who committed high-profile breaches of discipline are in the minority. If they weren’t, we’d know all about it in this great age of self-surveillance. Players deserve better than to be suddenly condemned as pariahs. The GAA deserves better.

Instead these breaches have been portrayed as an indictment of the GAA as a whole. The decision to play the inter-county championships has been represented as an act of selfishness from an organisation heedless of the greater public good.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The GAA’s motivation in holding the championships is altruistic. It actually stands to lose money by doing so. But it’s doing so because it believes that this will boost the nation’s morale.

The Taoiseach spoke in just those terms about the championships not long ago. The GAA were led to believe that holding the competition was part of its national duty and the GAA has always taken that duty very seriously.

Its reward has been not just to be traduced by critics acting in bad faith but to hear Leo Varadkar declare on Thursday that there will be no championships under Level 5. Whatever the rights and wrongs of this, the current Nphet position was that the championships would be allowed under Level 5.

If this has changed, the GAA and the public would have been informed by Nphet. Instead, Varadkar unilaterally declared a change of policy on the airwaves for his own political benefit. By doing so he stabbed the GAA in the back. This was not leadership but the crassest kind of opportunism.

The possibility of further treachery from politicians who believe there’s mileage in attacking the GAA means the association might be as well to call the championships off. The good is being knocked out of that altruistic gesture.

But Croke Park may be better off taking its lead from Nphet. If the championships pose a public health hazard they should be called off. If they don’t, there’s no reason they shouldn’t go ahead. Let the people who know about these things make the call.

It has been a bad week for the GAA. But it’s been a much worse week for Ireland. Because if people are going to turn on the country’s most popular sporting body at the drop of a hat, it means no one is immune from suddenly becoming a national scapegoat.

Things are turning toxic and it’s time to shout stop. If we don’t, this winter will soon turn from difficult to unbearable.

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