86% of GAA clubs surveyed in May 2020 were directly involved in the COVID-19 community response.
86% of GAA clubs surveyed in May 2020 were directly involved in the COVID-19 community response. 

Almost 35,000 people helped by GAA clubs during COVID-19 crisis

A survey of approximately 1,600 GAA clubs by the Association’s Community and Health Department has highlighted the huge role that clubs are playing in supporting their members and communities during the COVID-19 health crisis.

The survey found that 86% of those clubs have been directly involved in the COVID-19 community response.

That equated to approximately 19,164 GAA volunteers directly supporting 34,571 people in a variety of ways.

“It's incredible,” says the GAA’s Community and Health Department Manager, Colin Regan.

“Humbling, really, is the word that comes to mind. When you look at the numbers involved you realise the contribution the GAA is making at this time of crisis in the country.

“If our front-line services or other charities were required to provide support to an additional 35,000 people in our communities, it would put them under enormous drain.

“It allows them to focus on the high-need areas where there's maybe a higher threshold of expertise or qualifications required.

“Our volunteers are essentially doing their part to prop up and take the strain off the front-line services and allow them to deal with the higher-level requirements this emergency is bringing on our society and local communities.”

The GAA has always prided itself on being a community organisation as much as a sporting one, and the current health crisis has underlined the extent to which it is.

Sport has stopped, but GAA clubs have still been hugely active within their communities in a variety of different ways.

Naomh Eanna GAA club in Antrim are just one of many GAA clubs who have organised food drop-offs for the most vulnerable in their community. 
Naomh Eanna GAA club in Antrim are just one of many GAA clubs who have organised food drop-offs for the most vulnerable in their community. 

Local knowledge has proven to be a crucial asset in a time of emergency. While statutory services on both sides of the border were still working to get official structures fully up and running, GAA clubs were already being very proactive responding to the particular needs of their own communities.

“The ability of the GAA to mobilise at a community level was immediate, almost,” says Regan.

“And as soon as the emergency hit, we knew that because we have a direct communication line with the 300 clubs that are involved in the Healthy Club Project.

“Almost all of those within the first week of the scale of this emergency becoming apparent were involved in some form of COVID-19 response on behalf of their community. It wasn't exclusive to the Healthy Clubs, but we were seeing that immediately with them just because we have real-time visibility with the Healthy Clubs Facebook page.

“The numbers involved obviously quickly came to exceed those 300 clubs involved in the Healthy Clubs Project, but they had training in health promotion and partnership development that allowed them to immediately activate their project teams in supporting their communities and pulling together a team of volunteers to deliver groceries, et cetera.

“Beyond the Healthy Club Project, the GAA's strength in general is our ability to be able to mobilise an army of volunteers for whatever need.

“And, then, also the structures that are required to coordinate and maintain that over a prolonged period of time as we're seeing now.

“The statutory services in both jurisdictions probably took three weeks to get official structures up and running, so at that stage the GAA was already at the front-line in every single county doing what a lot of them do on a weekly basis.

“It's hidden a lot of the time because the games, quite rightly, take the centre-stage and that's what the media attention focuses on and that's what the community sees to see, the manifestation of the GAA through the very highly physical wearing of the jersey and the playing of our games.

“But this type of work does happen in a much more hidden way throughout a calendar year. The removal of the games has allowed the spotlight of the games to be shown on that element of the Association and I'm anticipating that it will result in a lasting increased appreciation of the community side of the GAA.”

The types of COVID-19 community responses carried out by GAA clubs can be broken down into five main areas – collection and delivery of essentials (29.01%), sharing public health information (21.64%), supporting members online (20.71%), the GAA Club Together initiative (15.99%), and meal deliveries (9.01%).

The numbers of people helped by initiatives such as the collection and deliveries of groceries and medication is relatively easy to account for.

It’s more difficult to estimate just how many people have had their health safeguarded and perhaps even their life saved by the number of GAA clubs who have very proactively amplified the correct public health information to their members.

There’s no doubt though that the manner in which so many GAA clubs took the lead in this regard played a big role in ‘flattening the curve’ at a time when that was and still is a national priority.

“It's incredibly important that the right messages get out at a time like this,” says Regan.

“We would have seen a start of it this year when the public health authorities had to come out and ask people not to share certain messages that were circulating on social media, et cetera, because they were spurious.

“But we can see even from the responses here that over 20 per cent of clubs have been actively sharing the official public health information to their members as well.

“It's the delivery of the groceries that grabs the attention, but I think that ability to amplify official health messaging has also been incredibly significant.

“In terms of the ability to respond quickly, as a volunteer-driven community-based organisation, it also then brings that innovation which in a time of crisis is absolutely crucial.

“Michael Ryan, the Sligo-man who is involved in the WHO, has spoken about the importance of the ability to move quickly in a time of crisis.

“Sometimes you learn that the first thing you did wasn't perfect and you correct and adapt. Flexibility, innovation, and speed of response are all incredibly important in a time of crisis and the ability to adapt and learn on one's feet and I think the Association has shown that.”

A reassuring 94 per cent of the clubs polled for the survey said they felt they had been provided with adequate support by the GAA during the current health-crisis.

“That was really, really positive,” says Regan. “That the vast majority felt they were getting support and strong communication from the GAA.

“Even the communication this week, while it is disappointing that we can't get access to our grounds as per the public health advice, but I also think our members and clubs and the public in general often look to the GAA for leadership on matters of national importance.

“I think the strong communications has provided some clear direction for our members, clubs, and counties during this time. When there is so much uncertainty, a certainty of leadership brings a degree of reassurance and I think that's been well-received.

“I'd like to acknowledge and thank all the volunteers on behalf of all the people that they are supporting.

“Unfortunately, we had a couple of young GAA members who lost their lives over the last couple of weeks across the country.

“Our county Health and Wellbeing Committees just absolutely stepped up to the plate there in terms of putting in place a critical incident response to support the clubs and the families and communities impacted.

“I'd like to thank our colleagues in the HSE and PHA psychological services that have been offering support and assistance at this time as well.”

The generosity of the wider GAA family has been very apparent in recent weeks.

There has been huge support for a wide variety of worthy and charitable causes such as the ‘Do It For Dan’ fundraiser that has underlined once again the community values of the Association.

“The Facebook page for the Healthy Club Project is something that I jump onto a couple of times a week just to give the spirits a lift at this time because it really is unbelievable the breadth of what is happening across the country,” says Regan.

“What's really dominating at the moment is that there's a recognition from GAA clubs at the moment that charities are struggling who aren't able to roll out their traditional fund-raising campaigns.

“Over the last few weeks I've seen a huge increase in the number of clubs that are supporting specific charity campaigns and events like Darkness into Light which is coming up this weekend.

“Obviously all our units will be having concerns around funding as things return to some sense of normality.

“So, to see that they're so concerned about supporting the funding of charity gives further reassurance that altruism is alive and well out there.”