Irish League fans have breathed a huge sigh of relief after the NI Executive gave the green light to capacity crowds for the festive games next Monday, but fresh restrictions could be imposed in January.
The December 27 matches can now go ahead with bumper crowds, including 9,000 at Windsor Park for the Big Two clash.
Guidance will be issued to those travelling to and from sporting fixtures, including not to car share. Fans are being urged to take lateral flow tests beforehand in addition to wearing masks at events.
A review on December 30 will determine whether further restrictions are necessary.
The news is also a relief to Ulster Rugby, who are at home to Connacht on Sunday before welcoming Leinster to the Kingspan on January 1.
But Covid-19 cases are rising and a fresh outbreak at Crusaders led to the postponement of their home Danske Bank Premiership clash with Glenavon last night.
Glenavon were consulted regarding cases in the Crusaders camp and both clubs agreed the match should be postponed.
A question mark now hangs over the north Belfast derby at Solitude on Monday and more matches could be called off if there are further outbreaks.
It’s the fifth time Crusaders have had to postpone a match this season due to Covid and club chairman Ronnie Millar says the club have picked up cases because they test players and staff twice a week. He would like to see testing procedures enhanced at all clubs.
“Are other clubs testing as much as we are?” asked Millar.
“We test twice a week and have discovered more cases. We have a duty of care to our players and clubs need to step up their testing procedures.
“There should be a mandatory testing regime as this could be a life or death issue. The consequences could be horrendous unless we stop the spread.
“I’m not so much worried about Monday’s game as I am worried about how this will impact the health of our players and staff.”
The Welsh government has limited festive sporting fixtures to 50 spectators from Boxing Day with outdoor events in Scotland allowed a maximum 500 people for a three-week period from December 26 amid surging numbers of Omicron cases.
In the Republic of Ireland, outdoor sporting attendances are limited to 50% of venue capacity or a maximum of 5,000 spectators — whichever is the lower number.
Ballymena boss David Jeffrey feels matches should be called off if attendances are restricted.
“We should be consistent and pragmatic as we move forward,” he said. “If our government restrict attendances, allowing up to only 500 spectators, that would have massive financial implications and I would prefer it if the games were postponed.”
Jeffrey added: “Interest has grown in our league and who can decide who can come in and who can’t? If we are faced with behind-closed-doors games or limited numbers, I would not play the games.
“We need to take care of our whole community and take the advice of our medics.
“I am double jabbed and also have my booster.
“It’s about looking after others, including my elderly parents, as well as myself.”
Glenavon chairman Adrian Teer, whose side are due to travel to Portadown on Monday, echoed Jeffrey’s sentiments.
“I would agree with David. When we played matches without big crowds it was soul-destroying. It was a dreadful period in the history of the game,” he said.
“I would argue that people are better watching games in the open air than in indoor spaces. You need sponsors at games and we have 10 directors at Glenavon and some games I couldn’t even get half of them in.
“Football is their business and it’s not right they are excluded.”