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Summer return too soon for sport in Northern Ireland, says Sport NI head McKeown



Antoinette McKeown at Sport NI headquarters

Antoinette McKeown at Sport NI headquarters

Antoinette McKeown at Sport NI headquarters

Sport NI chief executive Antoinette McKeown believes sport in Northern Ireland can recover from the devastating impact of coronavirus on the sector.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Ms McKeown added that any thoughts of a return to sporting action here in the summer may be too ambitious, insisting that it should only resume when it is completely safe to do so.

With games not allowed to take place due to Covid-19 and no money coming in from gate receipts or hospitality, many sporting organisations have been struggling to survive.

Over £3m of public funding has been made available to organisations across the spectrum in Northern Ireland to help the sporting community but there is no bottomless pit of cash with fears that, depending on how long the lockdown continues, some clubs could close and jobs will be lost.

Ms McKeown says that the admirable attitude of people involved in all levels of sport in Northern Ireland provides her with optimism for the future of our sport.

"I think we can recover and will get out of it because we have the right type of people in our sporting sector and the right type of volunteers and they have to be commended," said the head of Sport NI.

"It won't be easy and will take all of the effort and additional funding but I think all of the governing bodies have shown a huge willingness and appetite to share information and best practice and that can get us to a really healthy place going forward.

"If you look at some of the volunteering efforts of our sports people and clubs across the communities who are helping people at this time, they are showing a resolve that they can put their minds to anything."

Asked when sport in Northern Ireland would return, Ms McKeown said: "That's a really difficult question. We in Sport NI have started that conversation with our sporting governing bodies. We want to make sure it is safe for everybody. That is the most important factor."

McKeown added: “We don’t have a timeline but we are hopeful that we can return to some level of sport this year. I think the summer is fairly ambitious.

“The other issue we are mindful of is the cost of re-opening if we have a second wave of Covid-19, which is what our medics are also preparing for. Are we going to open for six weeks to have to close again for a second lockdown?

“That would be our worst-case scenario but these are all issues we have to consider for the long-term sustainability of sport. Nobody wants sport out for longer than it needs to be because it is one of the major areas that lifts Northern Ireland.

“We are in a unique position because we run across three jurisdictions, we have island of Ireland sports which are the majority, we have UK-affiliated sports and we have some regional Northern Ireland national sports like football and netball.

“We are working with Sport Ireland and staying close to getting a co-ordinated approach, we are part of a UK-wide working group of the four home nations, not just around when it is a safe time to go back to training and playing games but what are the sports we can open up first and what age ranges we can open up first plus how we can bring our sports stars back in a safe way.”

Belfast Telegraph