Big three sports unlikely to return soon as NI Executive unveils Covid-19 plan – BBC Sport

Irish Premiership footballers have been out of action since 7 March

Football, gaelic games and rugby appear unlikely to resume anytime soon in Northern Ireland following the NI Executive’s publication of its plan for easing the Covid-19 lockdown.

The plan says close physical contact sports should only resume in the fifth and final stage of the process.

No timescales are given for any of the stages but stage five is likely to be several months away.

Northern Ireland football is suspended until 31 May.

Uefa has given the Northern Ireland football authorities a deadline of 25 May to submit plans for concluding the current season or an explanation why this cannot happen.

The European football governing has reiterated it does not intend to scrap the qualifying rounds for Champions and Europa Leagues next season.

However, the Northern Ireland Executive’s Covid-19 timeline indicates that the Northern Ireland Football League is going to face an extremely difficult task in completing the Premiership and Championship campaigns.

In terms of the gaelic games situation, the Executive’s announcement on close physical contact may well be considered academic following GAA president John Horan’s comments on Sunday that he did not believe the sport would be possible if social distancing measures remained in place.

There have been reports of the Pro14 rugby competition resuming in late August, but the phase five stipulation in the executive’s blueprint for close contact sports suggest that the prospects of games returning to Kingspan Stadium at that stage are remote.

As anticipated, golf has been included in phase one although, again, no date is given.

The opening stage plans for outdoor spaces and public sport amenities to open which will allow other activities such as walking, running, cycling, some water activities and tennis.

Stage two provides for team sports resuming training on a non-contact basis in small groups with stage three allowing bigger groups to be involved in training sessions.

Stage four will allow a resumption of non-close contact competitive sport “behind closed doors” or with limitations on the number of spectators with leisure centres and other indoor leisure facilities also opening at that time.

The final stage will see the resumption of close physical contact sports which spectators would be able to attend on a limited basis with social distancing measures remaining in place.

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