By Dave Donnelly
St Francis have appealed for clarity from authorities on when underage football can return on a limited basis as the current restrictions roll into a fourth month.
Clubs in Dublin had been permitted to return to training in pods of up to 15 under Level 3 restrictions but have not been permitted to continue since December.
While League of Ireland clubs have been given the green light to return to play, amateur football has remained strictly off the table and guidance hasn’t been forthcoming as to when that will change.
And with government suggesting severe lockdown restrictions could persist into April or later, the club was moved to make a public appeal for some sort of guidance.
A statement issued by the club’s committee said: “We still don’t have an answer [to when they can return] close to three months after sport was taken from every child and adult in the country.”
The club have been disappointed by the lack of engagement from government and the football authorities.
More worrying, however, has been the growing number of parents with serious concerns over the toll lack of access to sport has had on their children’s health, mentally and physically.
“I have had numerous calls from parents, a concerning amount of parents, with worries about the well-being of their children,” St Francis’ child welfare officer Karen O’Neill tells the Dublin Gazette.
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“We’re not underestimating the dangers of this virus – we know it’s very serious – but the government see the return to schools for these children being paramount.
“I have been inundated with calls from parents about their children and the age groups from Under-10s right up to Under-19, with growing concerns over their children withdrawing from sport in general.
“Some do not want to return at all. Physical problems where their children will have gained quite an amount of weight.
“After the last lockdown, we had quite a few different age groups come back and it was quite frightening that some children had not engaged in any physical activity during lockdown.”
O’Neill, whose three children have all been involved with the club through the age grades, described the safeguards in place at a typical training session before the latest shutdown.
“The training sessions were staggered. Covid officers were put in place for each training session. The parents would have received a track and trace form through the Clubforce app.
“The parents would have to sign a declaration that the child was in good health and able to train. They would have to have the form sent back before 5pm if their child was training that evening.
“It was a drop-off only, one-way system. The parent would drive into the car park, the child would be left off, the parent would leave and there would be hand sanitisers all the way up to the pitch.
“They wouldn’t enter the pitch until all team members had arrived and were socially distancing, and then the coach would let them on. It was very well-managed.
“We didn’t have any Covid cases, which led us to believe it was working very well. We would have 15-minute breaks between when one team would leave and the next team arrived.
“There was a Covid officer present for each session, and we made sure the Covid officer was not a coach who was assigned to the team.
“I would ensure the Covid declaration form had come back from the parent, and I ticked off that the child had arrived.
“If these children are already interacted at junior, senior, first and second class, there no reason that we can’t have these age groups returning on a trial basis.”