The Northern Ireland Sports Forum has written to the First Minister and deputy First Minister this morning (22nd June) to request urgent action is taken to open indoor sporting facilities.
Whilst we fully support the Executive’s commitment to ensuring the health and wellbeing of society before any organisation can begin to operate, we do believe that with recent announcements around the opening of shops and restaurants that serious consideration is needed to enable the opening of indoor sporting facilities as a matter of urgency
We fully appreciate that the changing nature of the situation has meant that various measures taken to return to normality need to be thoroughly considered in line with guidance from health authorities. Our members have expressed concerns over the lack of consistency in this decision making process. Many of our sports operate in various indoor environments from high performance sport to grass roots participation. With supporting guidance from Sport NI, sports have worked hard to ensure significant protocols are put in place to allow for the resumption of activity, including protocols for swimming pools for high performance athletes and in sports halls with several badminton courts for example.
We are deeply frustrated that whilst a decision to open shopping centres, in which large numbers of people are likely to gather has been made, there has been no progress on a decision to allow for the opening of indoor sporting facilities which would permit a fixed number of athletes to participate in a socially distanced, controlled sporting environment.
We recognise the need for businesses across sectors to reopen, safely, to kick start our economy. Equally we believe the NI Executive needs to consider the significant impact sport and physical activity has on society and the need to ensure we facilitate this. It is also important to note, that many of our elite athletes are unable to prepare fully for the Olympics or qualification for the Commonwealth Games in 2022 and it is vital that the impact these games have on the region is also recognised.
Finally, we noted on Friday 19th July that the Irish government announced that sports could engage in contact training from June 29th. As over 60% of NI Sports Forum members operate on an All-Island basis we would urge the Executive to consider this alignment for sports organisations and clubs operating in Northern Ireland once the correct protocols are put in place. Our members are already outlining to us that they are concerned over the competitive advantage their counterparts across the border will have when competing in the coming months.