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Ministers appear to disagree over whether spectators can attend sports matches

First Minister Arlene Foster has insisted new coronavirus regulations do not ban spectators in the grounds of elite sports.

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First Minister Arlene Foster (Liam McBurney/PA)

First Minister Arlene Foster (Liam McBurney/PA)

First Minister Arlene Foster (Liam McBurney/PA)

A Northern Ireland football club was left in an “impossible situation” after struggling to clarify whether they could allow supporters to attend a match.

The confusion came as fans turned up for a Danske Bank Premiership clash between Coleraine and Ballymena United at Coleraine Showgrounds.

New strict regulations aimed at stemming the spread of coronavirus came into effect at 6pm on Friday for four weeks, shortly before the match was due to kick off.

Guidance states that elite training and competition can continue, both indoors and outdoors.

The Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) said it received a letter from Communities Minister Caral Nu Chuilin advising it was “necessary to stop spectators from attending sporting events”.

Coleraine Football Club chairman Colin McKendry said some fans were already inside the grounds when he arrived, while others were initially kept outside while they sought clarity from police.

All the supporters were later allowed into the Coleraine venue after it was deemed unsafe to keep them outside, risking a contravention of a rule limiting numbers who can gather public.

“We’ve put all the necessary safety requirements in place to adhere to the Public Health Agency,” he said, adding they had been put in an “impossible situation”.

First Minister Arlene Foster responded to developments on social media, stating the regulations “do not ban spectators in the grounds of elite sports”.

“The existing position is maintained permitting a limited number to attend. Preposterous for clubs to be told anything to the contrary,” she posted on Twitter.

PA