BY MARTIN WALSH
THE return of all types of sport is getting closer all the time, yet there is still a long way to go before normality in that sphere returns to what we all accept as normal.
No doubt, the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine is making significant impact, but everyone still has much to do. Now is not the time to drop our guard. It’s great to see the return of Gaelic games. Indeed, that spectrum is likely to be the blueprint for many other sports, aside from soccer and rugby. In the last week or so, football fans in Britain returned to watch the final games of the Premier League along with play-off games and the FA Cup final.
Here on these shores, there is no fixed date as to when GAA followers will be allowed watch their local teams in action. That is likely to be a defining moment and one that is likely to dictate proceedings in other sports.
In motorsport, Motorsport Ireland (MI) are set to ratify a calendar of gated events – for the remainder of this year – this Saturday after its affiliated clubs were requested to submit their applications by Sunday last. Permitted events can resume with effect from June 7th, subject to local restrictions and in accordance with MI’s ‘Return to Sport Protocol.’ It is more participation-driven as no spectators will be allowed in these circumstances.
‘We are extremely grateful to the government and Sport Ireland for providing the opportunity for motorsport to resume in Ireland next month in line with other outdoor sports,’ Motorsport Ireland president John Naylor said.
‘This is positive news for our community and after seven full months without any events, it will be great to return to the sport we all love. Covid-19 protocols still apply and our sport must continue to play its part in supporting the health service and wider frontline community in keeping infection rates under control. We can now look forward to getting motorsport up and running next month.’
While gated events will mark the return of some disciplines, rallying has yet to get the green light. The governing body has informed its clubs that, and to avoid any doubt, gated events must take place on private property and without spectators.
They have also issued a list of disciplines that are not classed as gated events – these include stage rallies, hillclimbs, endurance trials, navigation trials and multi-venue autotests that require IRDS.
Motorsport Ireland also states that the status of non-gated events will be clarified in due course, once they have further information from Sport Ireland. Nevertheless, they say it would be helpful if clubs could inform them of their interest in running non-gated events so that they (MI) can gauge the interest and share that information with both Sport Ireland and the Motorsport Ireland insurers.
Last December and early January, clubs submitted their 2021 calendar applications but those applications were subsequently suspended. Once Motorsport Ireland has compiled the gated event applications, a draft calendar was set to be issued on Wednesday, and a Zoom meeting with the clubs to ratify calendar is, according to Motorsport Ireland, set for this Sunday.
The local Skibbereen and District Car Club are hoping to run two autocross events. The Munster Car Club are also planning autocross events as well as the Cork ‘20’ Rally. A spokesperson for the club stated that it may well run a forest rally instead of the Cork ‘20’ but it is difficult at this point in time to make a commitment. Meanwhile, the Cork Motor Club would not comment on what applications it made as it appears they were awaiting a response from Motorsport Ireland before making any comment. The Imokilly Club made no applications as they felt that costs were too high.
Certainly, when it comes to running a stage rally, it is far too early to predict a commencement date. There is a general – and a seemingly acceptable – view that rallying can only be given consideration when spectators will be allowed attend GAA matches, particularly at local level. Many event organisers feel that it would be insensitive to ask residents for permission to close roads given the effects of recent lockdowns. In addition, it would be unfair to request the assistance of medical personnel given that they have been thought a traumatic time since March 2020.
It's much easier to limit the number of spectators in relation to Gaelic, rugby and soccer games. Restricting the number of spectators at a rally is virtually impossible. More importantly, it cannot be governed like match venues. It is worth noting that the roads used in rallying and the 200 metres of the approach roads are, under legislation, only closed to vehicular traffic. Spectators can traverse fields to get to see events and there is little or nothing that marshals or organisers can do to prevent such a scenario. That is why (stage) rallying will be one of the last disciplines to return in the circumstances.
In the meantime, this is likely to lead to an increase in the number of rallysprints at venues such as Mondello Park or other locations that can be gated to comply with restrictions.