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What does Northern Ireland plan to ease lockdown mean for eight key sports?

 

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We look at how the Stormont Executive's plan to ease the lockdown impacts on these eight sports.

We look at how the Stormont Executive's plan to ease the lockdown impacts on these eight sports.

David Martin

David Martin

�William Cherry / Presseye

The Northern Ireland Executive's five-point plan for the easing of Covid-19 lockdown is another blow for tarmac racing, albeit not unexpected

The Northern Ireland Executive's five-point plan for the easing of Covid-19 lockdown is another blow for tarmac racing, albeit not unexpected

Alan Waite

Alan Waite

Jamie Conlan

Jamie Conlan

Ian Humphreys

Ian Humphreys

Essentially, the five-step programme of opening up activity in Northern Ireland as revealed by the Executive has no relevance for Gaelic games

Essentially, the five-step programme of opening up activity in Northern Ireland as revealed by the Executive has no relevance for Gaelic games

�INPHO/Tommy Dickson

The local competitive hockey season is unlikely to resume by its usual start date in September while the situation is further complicated by the fact the sport is played on an all-Ireland basis

The local competitive hockey season is unlikely to resume by its usual start date in September while the situation is further complicated by the fact the sport is played on an all-Ireland basis

Kevin Stevens

Kevin Stevens

We look at how the Stormont Executive's plan to ease the lockdown impacts on these eight sports.

The Northern Ireland Executive on Tuesday revealed its plan for easing lockdown over the coming months.

Included was a sport-specific set of five steps to return to normal.

So what do the implications of those mean for eight of our biggest sports?

Here's a look:

Football: 'We should be game ready so that there is a plan in place'

The million dollar question football fans are asking is, 'Will the league season be played to a finish?'

This plan has deepened fears that the campaign is over.

Football may be frozen out until December, though a more optimistic assessment would be a September return.

Irish FA president David Martin still believes leagues should decide on a pathway out of this crisis.

"I'm encouraged to see that the NI Executive has produced and made public its five-step plan for easing the lockdown for everyone in Northern Ireland," said Martin. "I look forward to learning more about how this will affect sport generally, but more particularly for football in Northern Ireland. It affects all contact sport so we will see how the fight against the virus pans out in the coming weeks and months. 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.

"Football should be game ready so that when it can resume there is a plan in place. Leagues should find a pathway out of this crisis but of course we cannot be sure at the moment when the game will return."

Graham Luney

Rugby: Negative waves hard to ride out as return seems distant

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Ian Humphreys

Ian Humphreys

Ian Humphreys

With the resumption of close contact sports listed in Step Five, the chances of rugby as we know it being seen any time soon are, unsurprisingly, looking pretty unlikely.

What this may do to the complexion of the game at all levels for next season is not wholly clear but rugby behind closed doors - or with crowd restrictions - and perhaps no professional rugby being played at the Kingspan until autumn at the earliest are all possibilities.

At least some form of squad training returns before Step Five.

"It's a very fine balance," said former Ulster player Ian Humphreys, "Rugby needs to generate money, but health just has to be the overriding factor."

There has been much speculation regarding some form of return for the PRO14 to finish this season with late summer offering a potential timeline.

And a notion that Ulster's squad - who are currently furloughed - relocating south of the border, based on the idea that the Republic's blueprint could allow an earlier return might then lead to a series of interprovincial games.

A return for Test rugby has also been mooted with a Six Nations to possibly finish. Yes, but the virus's continued presence means that a clear picture remains elusive.

Michael Sadlier

Golf: 'We will be putting together an NI-specific protocol for clubs'

Golf in Northern Ireland was left a little deflated by the news from Stormont, even though a return to the fairways has been placed in Step One of the road map out of lockdown.

The Ulster Branch of the Golfing Union of Ireland had hoped that they could dovetail the return of golf here with that of the Republic of Ireland, where golf clubs will be opened on May 18. But that will not now be the case and it does open up the possibility of someone travelling across the border in order to play 18 holes.

Executive officer for the Ulster Branch of the GUI, Kevin Stevens, said: "We would obviously have preferred to have been given a date for when golf could restart and we can't hide away from that, but we also recognise that we are in phase one of the road map and were pleased to see that.

"We understand the thinking behind not giving a date but we will be in discussion with government because it would be good to be given a time-lag so we are ready to go when phase one starts. We will be putting together a Northern Ireland-specific protocol for clubs, in the same way that one was produced for clubs in the Republic."

David Kelly

Motorcycling: No racing in 2020 will lead to financial blow for clubs and riders

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The Northern Ireland Executive's five-point plan for the easing of Covid-19 lockdown is another blow for tarmac racing, albeit not unexpected

The Northern Ireland Executive's five-point plan for the easing of Covid-19 lockdown is another blow for tarmac racing, albeit not unexpected

The Northern Ireland Executive's five-point plan for the easing of Covid-19 lockdown is another blow for tarmac racing, albeit not unexpected

The Northern Ireland Executive's five-point plan for the easing of Covid-19 lockdown is another blow for tarmac racing, albeit not unexpected.

Following the recent announcement that the North West 200 had been cancelled, there is now no hope of any road race taking place in 2020 on this island or the Isle of Man.

The Cookstown Club had not given up on running their race in September, postponed from April, but yesterday's announcement would certainly seem to knock that plan on the head, as it is only in Stage Four (if we reach that step) where it mentions the resumption of competitive sport "behind closed doors", or with limitations on the number of spectators and adhering to social distancing.

The major blow will be financial. Sponsorship money will be much harder to find for clubs and competitors with businesses which survive this pandemic going to be hit badly for the foreseeable future with little extra cash available.

Surrounding areas for road races will also suffer with no visitors coming to spend their money.

On the plus side, hopefully, things can be restored to something near normality by the time the 2021 season is scheduled to get under way with fans and competitors itching to fulfil their passion of road and short circuit racing.

Roy Harris

Boxing: Conlan is plotting return of Belfast shows after bill in England

Plans have been ongoing for professional boxing shows in Belfast this summer, behind closed doors, but the latest announcement may delay such a move.

The British Boxing Board of Control have announced their regulations for behind-closed-doors shows, with July the target for some promoters - including MTK Global, whose vice President Jamie Conlan is to the fore in seeking to run bills as soon as possible. But the Northern Ireland roadmap out of the lockdown states that competitive sport behind closed doors will only be part of step four of the five steps.

Conlan said: "For us it's just a case of continuing to move forward, making sure we have good plans in place and that fighters will be fit and ready to go when the chance comes to run a show.

"There have be no dates set for the various steps so you just don't know when step four will come into operation. We are making plans for a show in the north West of England because England is ahead of the rest of the UK. But, at the same time we have contacted hotels in Belfast and we are also looking at the possibility of a purpose-built venue."

David Kelly

GAA: Announcement has no bearing on plans for the future

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Essentially, the five-step programme of opening up activity in Northern Ireland as revealed by the Executive has no relevance for Gaelic games

Essentially, the five-step programme of opening up activity in Northern Ireland as revealed by the Executive has no relevance for Gaelic games

�INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Essentially, the five-step programme of opening up activity in Northern Ireland as revealed by the Executive has no relevance for Gaelic games

Essentially, the five-step programme of opening up activity in Northern Ireland as revealed by the Executive has no relevance for Gaelic games.

In playing for time by not setting and thereby being forced to climb down over projected dates, the plan has included Step Three where team sports could resume training on a non-contact basis.

Step Four has a resumption of action behind closed doors or with limitations on spectators, and the final step is resumption of close physical contact sports and full use of sporting facilities.

None of this matters to the GAA, the Ladies' Gaelic Football Association and the Camogie Association. While the latter two are their own separate entities, it would seem inevitable they will follow the GAA's lead; after all, each unit is almost exclusively using facilities vested in the GAA, who have ordered all units to keep premises locked down.

On Sunday night, GAA president John Horan outlined a very decisive course of action - while there is social distancing in place, there can be no Gaelic games. That simple. The day after, results of a Club Players' Association poll held that out of 3,008 respondents, only 57% were prepared to go back with no vaccine available.

And 57% of any team doesn't fill all the jerseys. It will be incredible if any GAA team sports are played in 2020 without a vaccine.

Declan Bogue

Hockey: 'Clubs have school kids so parents and teachers will be consulted'

The local competitive hockey season is unlikely to resume by its usual start date in September while the situation is further complicated by the fact the sport is played on an all-Ireland basis.

In theory, hockey is a non-contact sport but the reality is different with player marking and competitors in close proximity in certain phases, so Stage Four of lockdown easing signals a provisional return to action at first.

Ulster Hockey will follow the advice given by Sport NI and the national governing body along with other stakeholders in making a return-to-play decision with participants likely to be given four weeks' notice.

Billy Pollock, Ulster Hockey chair, said: "There are a host of factors to be considered, especially as there is a significant proportion of clubs having school kids in their teams so parents and teachers will also be among those who will have to be consulted before we can even start to think about a resumption."

It is hoped that recreational, non-competitive hockey will be the start of a gradual return.

The Irish Hockey League, in which five Ulster teams compete with others from other provinces, is also unlikely to start in September. However, players from south of the border can resume training in small groups from next week.

John Flack

Cricket: ‘We’ll take guidance from Cricket Ireland and see the prospects'

Alan Waite

Hopes of a meaningful cricket season are fading fast.

The Republic of Ireland government had already announced that the earliest sport can take place is July 20 and although there are no dates in the Executive's road map, it is only in the final stage that sport can return with full facilities.

The only remaining international cricket in Northern Ireland is scheduled to be completed by July 2 and the two games in the Republic were due on July 12 and 14. It also means there will almost certainly be no Irish Cup this year - the only senior all-Ireland competition - and the unspecified delay to the resumption of competitive sport means the NCU and North West leagues remain on hold. The Cricket Ireland board meet today and will give a new best scenario date for a possible resumption which the provincial unions are certain to follow and the NCU board already have a meeting arranged for tomorrow night when they will also give clubs a possible road map.

"We will take our guidance from Cricket Ireland and see what the prospects are for cricket in 2020 and if there is anything else we can advise clubs of," said Alan Waite, chairman of the NCU's Domestic Directorate.

With the season due to end on September 30, time is running out.

Ian Callender

Belfast Telegraph