Covid-19: Northern Ireland Executive outlines sport’s phased return – BBC Sport

Ben Doherty celebrates scoring a goal
Supporters last attended matches in Northern Ireland on 19 December

Golf in Northern Ireland will return in phase two of the Stormont Executive’s lockdown exit plan but supporters at matches will wait until phase four.

The Executive says progression through the steps will be driven by data and not dates.

Outdoor sports facilities re-open for training and organised group activities in step two, which includes golf courses and tennis courts.

Gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools will re-open in phase three.

Under the current lockdown restrictions, classed as phase one, training and matches are only permitted for elite athletes.

Progression for each of the nine pathways – across social and business settings – will depend on certain public health criteria being met. The executive will review its coronavirus restrictions regularly, with the next due on 18 March.

The next step will see outdoor sports facilities re-open for training and organised group activities. Outdoor competitive sport can resume with no spectators, which would pave the way for the Irish Cup to commence should the Executive progress into phase two by May.

Phase three will mean leisure centres and all indoor sports facilities will reopen, including swimming pools, gyms and soft play areas. Indoor classes, such as Zumba or dance classes, will also resume.

Spectators will not be permitted to attend sporting events, both indoor and outdoor, until phase four of the Executive’s plan. Numbers in attendance will be limited until the final phase of the lockdown strategy.

The GAA will continue to operate on an all-island basis. Level 5 restrictions will remain in place until 5 April in the Republic of Ireland which would lead up to an early-May start for the inter-county season if the expected four weeks of pre-season are given for collective training.

On Tuesday, Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey met with Sport NI, the NI Sports Forum and Sports Governing Bodies to discuss the pathway to a safe return to organised outdoor sport.

Representatives from football, GAA, rugby, golf and other outdoor sports shared their experiences with the Minister and discussed the protocols they had put in place to make their organised sports sessions Covid safe for their members and participants.

“Sport and physical activity is fundamental to helping us deal with the impact of the Covid pandemic and that is why I will make the case for a safe return to organised outdoor sport in line with the Health Protection Regulations,” said the Communities Minister.

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