“I am angry with the GAA and its position and I have been throughout this.”
Former Armagh All-Ireland winning defender Aidan O’Rourke is among 80 signatories to a letter sent to Stormont Executive on the resumption of youth sport.
Signed by many well-known sporting figures, the letter asks Stormont to allow the resumption of youth sport in order to “address the wellbeing crisis” among young people in the North.
The performance sport manager at Queen’s University says the letter came from growing frustration at youth level that sport is not able to continue in outdoor environments – despite the successful following of all protocols last summer.
“Ask any parents and they’ll tell you the cost of their kids not playing sport right now,” O’Rourke told the Irish Times.
“Disappearing personalities, children withdrawing entirely within themselves, right up to severe mental health, self-harm.
“I’m not saying that sport would be a silver bullet to stop all that. But it could have been alleviated at least to some extent by giving them the structure of sport.”
The RTÉ GAA columnist fears that a whole generation of kids are lacking structure in their lives, which could have long-term implications down the line.
“You’re talking about a generation of kids who have no school to go to, who are crying out for the structure of a few training sessions a week to look forward to,” O’Rourke explained.
“Whatever about primary school aged kids – they have their imaginations to entertain themselves and parents to entertain them – but once you go into that 10-16 age bracket, it’s social media, it’s screen time flat out.
“The science is clear – this can all be done safely. Other jurisdictions have done it. The Netherlands, Sweden, Italy, France – these are all countries where youth sport is being preserved through accredited sports clubs right now.
“They recognise it’s safe. They’ve looked at the science.”
Regarding a GAA return, the 37-year-old didn’t hold back in his comments, describing his anger at the GAA and the level of frustration at grassroots about the lack of will by the organisation to bring back youth games.
“As a parent, I am hugely frustrated with the big sporting bodies,” O’Rourke added.
“I am angry with the GAA and its position and I have been throughout this.
“The move to lock the gates on club grounds, I don’t even have the words to articulate my anger on that.
“It’s such a clear disconnect between the leadership and the grassroots.”
As a parent himself, the Dromintee St. Patrick’s clubman wants to see the GAA leading the way, adding that they have far more power than 80 signatories on a letter to Stormont.
“The GAA have a much more powerful platform than we do writing a letter,” O’Rourke added.
“They are having constant conversations with the Government. They can present the case, they have the ear of Government.
“They can lay out the science and say, ‘Tell us why this won’t work.’ And if they don’t get movement this time, they might get some the next time.”
“We took this on because these kids needed a voice. Their sporting bodies weren’t sticking up for them.
“They weren’t making a case about how advantageous it would be for the overall health of young people to be playing sport, nobody was making that case.”