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Elite sport to make New Year return in Northern Ireland after festive lockdown

Irish FA will write to NI Executive asking for Irish Cup to be given elite status

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Ulster's Guinness Pro14 game at Connacht will go ahead

Ulster's Guinness Pro14 game at Connacht will go ahead

©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Gerard Lawlor

Gerard Lawlor

�INPHO/Stephen Hamilton

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Ulster's Guinness Pro14 game at Connacht will go ahead

Elite sport in Northern Ireland will be back with a bang in early 2021 after the fresh lockdown imposed by the NI Executive this week wiped out matches immediately after Christmas.

Danske Bank Premiership games on Boxing Day and December 29 are affected by the new measures but it has now been confirmed that the January 2 fixtures can go ahead, as well as Ulster Rugby's Guinness Pro14 games at Connacht on December 27 and home to Munster on January 2. No spectators are allowed to attend the elite matches.

There were fears the early January games would also have to be postponed due to training not being allowed but it has emerged that elite training can continue throughout the lockdown period.

A Department for Communities spokesperson said: "The stricter measures for the period of 00:01 26 December to 2 January end at 00:01 on 2 January.

"Spectators are not permitted at elite sporting events."

Ulster Rugby have been informed that elite training will not be impacted.

Northern Ireland Football League chairman Gerard Lawlor stated on Twitter: "Sporting bodies getting no direction or information, really poor messaging and information once again."

In another development, the Irish FA will write to the NI Executive in the coming days requesting that the Irish Cup be given elite status. There are fears the competition cannot get under way next month as the majority of teams in the 'Round of 32' have non-elite status.

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Gerard Lawlor

Gerard Lawlor

�INPHO/Stephen Hamilton

Gerard Lawlor

The IFA went ahead with Thursday’s Sadler’s Peaky Blinder Irish Cup ‘Round of 32’ draw, despite uncertainty over whether the ties could be played on January 9.

Only the 12 Premiership sides in the draw have elite status and the NI Football League Championship and NIFL Premier Intermediate League clubs haven’t been able to start their league seasons yet.

The festive fixtures are hugely popular and in pre-Covid times, the Big Two derby at Windsor Park would have attracted a crowd of around 7,000 and generated around £50,000 income for the Blues.

The Ballymena United v Coleraine derby can also generate as much as £28,000, according to the Sky Blues.

Combined match day revenue for the matches on December 26, December 29 and January 2 could exceed £300,000 — a figure which highlights the ongoing financial concerns of clubs. Government funding may not arrive until March or April.

The latest restrictions, reviewed after four weeks, will leave more clubs financially vulnerable.

Up to 500 spectators have been welcomed into stadiums in the current lockdown but they will not be able to return to matches next year until restrictions are lifted.

Linfield chairman Roy McGivern said: “The Boxing Day game at Windsor can generate up to £50,000. In 2018 we had around 7,000 which was probably the biggest crowd in 10 years with added sponsorship and advertising income. All clubs are now projecting their losses for the season and I’m sure the numbers are eye-watering. Our average home crowd is usually 2,500.

“We are doing our best to get through but it is horrendous.”

Curtailment plans are in place, as agreed by all Premiership clubs, should the 38-game season not be concluded by the summer.

League champions can be called if a minimum of 22 matches have been played.

Meanwhile, the Irish FA will have a women’s football representative on their board for the first time after passing a vote on Thursday.

The board agreed unanimously to pass the motion at their emergency general meeting on Thursday night, where they also agreed to hire a new full-time head of women’s football in 2021.

Belfast Telegraph


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