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Sport needs to plan for return even after Stormont Executive continue shutdown: Irish FA chief

 

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Behind closed doors: shuttered Seaview stadium

Behind closed doors: shuttered Seaview stadium

David Martin

David Martin

Behind closed doors: shuttered Seaview stadium

Northern Ireland's three big sports face being frozen out for months by the NI Executive's five-stage plan for easing the Covid-19 lockdown.

The blueprint says close physical contact sports should only resume in the fifth and final stage of the process and First Minister Arlene Foster said she hoped to reach the final stage by December.

That would be a shattering blow to football, Gaelic games and rugby - sports that are already taking a massive financial hit.

As the Stormont plan does not include a timetable, the speed of movement through the stages will depend on how the virus can be contained.

But, at the very least, it means that competitive action will not be witnessed at the Kingspan Stadium, Windsor Park or the Athletic Grounds for several months.

GAA president John Horan has already stated he does not believe the sport will be possible if social distancing measures remain in place.

Golf has been included in Stage One of the plan, though no date for resumption has been given.

It now looks certain that the 2019-20 Irish League season will be ended, with the Northern Ireland Football League still to resolve promotion and relegation issues, any title award and European places.

Irish FA president David Martin welcomed the blueprint and urged leagues to plan ahead for the game's return.

"There are no times given for moving through the stages and I still believe the game should be looking forward and planning for a resumption when it comes out of lockdown," he said.

"Football should be game ready so that when it can resume there is a plan in place."

Uefa have given NIFL a deadline of May 25 to submit plans for concluding the season or an explanation why it's not possible.

Belfast Telegraph