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Can you play sports with a face mask on?

Shane Stapleton runs an athletic experiment to see if facial protection could speed up the return of contact games such as GAA

The world as we know it has shifted. With it, sport is having to do the same to survive.

There’s no suggestion that face masks will be brought into the GAA, and association president John Horan is adamant that there will be no return to our games until social distancing ends.

The situation is fluid, however, and there’s no telling where we as a society will be in a few weeks’ or months’ time.

Face masks are a prominent element of the new normal, and however unlikely it may seem just now, there may come a point in time when they are deemed a necessary precautionary measure for the return of contact sports.

Because one thing is for sure, for every person preaching patience when it comes to the return of our games, there will be another identifying codes of practice to speed up the process.

We’ve seen it in different business sectors, with an early example being the Licensed Vintners’ Association (LVA) and the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) proposing a series of measures to re-open while maintaining public health compliance.

Look across the world of sport for evidence too. We have seen jockeys wearing face masks as they drive their horses towards the finishing line; the Bundesliga returned at the weekend, with substitutes and team officials wearing face coverings.

It will take time to quantify the ramifications of any sport making a comeback, meaning the landscape could change dramatically.

Hertha Berlin defender Dedryck Boyata — formerly of Manchester City and Celtic — kissed Liverpool’s on-loan star Marko Grujic on the cheek to celebrate an own goal from Hoffenheim, though the German Football League has confirmed players won’t be punished for breaking social distancing guidelines when celebrating goals.

Would a face mask lower the risk of potential transmission in a situation such as this? Conversely, could a face mask that becomes infected with the virus actually become a bigger danger in such a setting?

There is a reason that these are so commonly referred to as ‘uncertain times’, and it is for this reason that undertook an experiment:

Is it possible to play sports with a face mask on?

Shane Stapleton, along with fellow GAA player Niall Keane, decided to run a series of athletic drills that they have done many times before.

It entails a basic keep-in-shape routine containing long runs at a medium pace, and then short bursts at pace — providing athletes of all codes an insight into what this might feel like.

The experiment then moved to the game most regularly played by the two men: hurling.
Both put on helmets over their face masks, and proceeded to puck the ball and run about.

It must be noted that this experiment and training session was not done as part of an official team training session — but merely an experiment by a journalist and a willing participant.

The original plan was to complete the training session with the face mask, and then do a controlled test without masks on.

Given that the options are limited just now in terms of using medical equipment to measure the effects on the body of wearing a mask, it was decided to instead focus solely on how each participant was feeling when playing with the covering on.

There is an acceptance that this is one variety of mask tested on just two subjects.

This experiment was designed to provide anecdotal evidence of how possible or otherwise it is to play sports with a face mask on.

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