Sport, Gaelic games, Covid-19, Lockdown,
This paper examines the impact of the first Covid-19 lockdown in Ireland on Gaelic games and the sports-media complex in Ireland via an analysis of the media discourses surrounding these sports. It focuses principally on the period between March 12th (when the Irish government announced the lockdown confirming the suspension of Gaelic games fixtures) and May 12th. Gaelic games provide a unique focus on the topic of sport and the lockdown; they are amateur sports (principally hurling and Gaelic football) that dominate the Irish sporting calendar each year, attracting the largest attendances across the island and occupying a key role within communities, particularly in rural areas. The cancellation of its elite and local level events over its peak Spring-Summer season severely impacted their governing body, the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), its athletes and national sports-media. The chapter traces the discursive construction and circulation of three themes across print, broadcast and social media during the lockdown.
Firstly, as with all other sports, there has been an abundance of retrospective broadcast programming, revisiting of key past sporting events and critical commentaries on the significance of these moments in the evolution and transformation of the GAA and Gaelic games. The latter were particularly prevalent in print media and their online editions. A second strand of coverage stressed the financial implications of the crisis for the GAA and the viability of its competitions post-crisis. While reliance on revenue from broadcast sports rights is an important factor in the GAAs economic model it differs from international sports in its comparatively lower dependence in this respect as the games are largely only played in Ireland and all of its players are amateur.
A further theme evident in broadcast, print, and social media discourses was the prominence of GAA athletes in a discourse of national, collective will to overcome the crisis. This involved challenge-based fundraising campaigns to purchase personal protective equipment for health staff, but also (in a specific illustrative focus for the paper) a high profile, cross-media campaign to raise funds for an infant requiring life-saving treatment in the US. Such campaigns crystallise a nostalgia for the experience of mass spectator sports, highlight the ordinariness and local, community situatedness of Irish sporting celebrities, and offer a proximation and idealisation of the collective experience of sport as symbol and exemplar of national integration.
Collectively these various discourses around sport and exercise became a conduit for the expression of social and cultural tensions and anxieties unleashed by Covid-19.