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Further £10m coronavirus relief fund announced for sport in Northern Ireland


Elite sports will be played without fans for two weeks beginning on Friday.

Elite sports will be played without fans for two weeks beginning on Friday.

Elite sports will be played without fans for two weeks beginning on Friday.

Sport in Northern Ireland has been given an additional £10m support package by the Stormont Assembly to help fight the impact of the latest Covid-19 restrictions.

From this Friday, all elite sport must be played without supporters, while contact sports outside the 'elite' banner cannot restart until the two-week restrictions come to an end on December 11.

Golfers are expecting to discover later today whether or not courses will be forced to close for the duration of the fortnight.

Last month it was announced that an initial £15m package would be divided out through Sport NI although it could take months for that money to actually be distributed.

Now Communities Minister Caral Ni Chuilin hopes the latest financial boost can protect sporting bodies and clubs from folding.

"The sports sector has suffered a significant blow as a result of the initial lockdown and further restrictions," she said.

"It is having to deal with reduced membership subscriptions, limited or no gate receipts, reduced sponsorship, the cancellation of events and disruption to income generating activities.

"This funding, in addition to the £15m announced last month, will go some way to safeguarding the sector, which makes a major contribution to the lives of individuals and communities - and will have a key role to play as we emerge from this crisis. I am determined that this funding gets out to those individuals, clubs and governing bodies at the earliest opportunity."

Just last week, Crusaders FC chairman Ronnie Millar admitted he fears clubs could be forced out of business.

"There is the prospect of clubs going out of business, like companies who are struggling," he said. "It could take a few months for the Sport NI money to arrive, and if it doesn't come until after March we could be saying goodbye to clubs.

"In the meantime, they have to honour contracts.

"While clubs are struggling, we are always mindful of the fact a lot of people have lost their lives."

There have been up to 600 supporters admitted to Irish League grounds since the Danske Bank Premiership season began last month, while clubs outside NIFL's top tier are still waiting for the campaign to get under way.

As many as 1,000 fans have been admitted to Northern Ireland football and Ulster Rugby games while Sunday's GAA Ulster Senior Football Championship final between Donegal and Cavan was played behind closed doors.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnston has announced the return of up to 4,000 fans in low risk areas at outdoor sporting events in England from December 2.

Tier two areas will be permitted to allow up to 2,000 spectators will tier three, the highest risk areas in England, will still have to play without supporters.

The restrictions could mean Ulster Rugby's Champions Cup tie at Gloucester on December 19 is played in front of fans.

Both Sport NI and the Department of Communities have been asked for guidance on a timescale for the distribution of funding.

Belfast Telegraph