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Irish League fans still set to attend fixtures as NI Sports Forum to query Northern Ireland Executive on new coronavirus restrictions

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Supporters have already returned to Irish League grounds for County Antrim Shield games and that will not change under the NI Executive's new restrictions.

Supporters have already returned to Irish League grounds for County Antrim Shield games and that will not change under the NI Executive's new restrictions.

PMAKER

Supporters have already returned to Irish League grounds for County Antrim Shield games and that will not change under the NI Executive's new restrictions.

Irish League fans will still be able to enter grounds for this weekend's opening round of fixtures in the 20/21 season.

A new raft of coronavirus restrictions was announced by the Northern Ireland Executive on Wednesday morning, with significant ramifications for sport.

From Friday, no indoor sport can take place or organised contact sport that involves a mix of households outside elite level. The restrictions will last for a period of four weeks.

It is expected that all local football below Danske Bank Premiership level will be impacted, with the Championship and Premier Intermediate League originally having been slated to begin this weekend. The Women's Premiership, whose truncated season has already begun, may have to shut down although a final announcement is expected later on whether it falls inside or outside the 'elite level' classification of professional or semi-professional sport.

Inter-county GAA will continue as planned, with the Allianz League due to return this weekend, and Ulster Rugby's senior fixtures will also be played.

Indoor sports such as netball and basketball will be forced to halt and the new restrictions will cause a shutdown for many grassroots level sports. The NI Sports Forum, which represents the interests of voluntary activities across the sporting spectrum, says it will be asking questions of the Executive.

"Our members have once again expressed their concerns regarding the financial stability of their organisations and their clubs, and the latest restrictions heighten those concerns drastically," read a statement.

"It must be noted that a significant number of members have indicated with total confidence that they are not aware of any cases of virus transmission through the playing or participating in their sport or physical activity.

"During the difficult times we live in, the health and wellbeing of our communities is vitally important and we will be seeking clarification from the NI Executive not only on how sport can operate in the coming weeks, but on the rationale as to why strict restrictions were place on a highly regulated sector which has worked hard to ensure the safety of all athletes and participants."

Supporters had returned to GAA matches before the organisation suspended club games due to what it called "disappointing and problematic" post-match celebrations and a lack of social distancing at certain events.

Both Ulster Rugby and the Northern Ireland national football team have held pilots with 600 fans returning to home matches while Irish League football clubs have welcomed a restricted number of supporters to pre-season friendlies and County Antrim Shield ties.

Belfast Telegraph