Sport NI and NIFL unite for mental health initiative amid Covid-19 uncertainty

Jimmy Callacher and Eoin Bradley
Linfield and Coleraine are challenging for this season's Irish Premiership title which has been suspended since early March

Sport Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Football League have united to start a mental health support programme in response to the Covid-19 crisis.

Five available support options will include an online sports support hub plus free player access to a football psychology app.

Managers and coaches are also being offered one-to-one contact support.

Ballymena United boss David Jeffrey and Olympic medallist boxer Paddy Barnes are among those backing the initiative.

With sport postponed indefinitely due to coronavirus, NIFL says it is "committed to providing continued practical support and guidance during these difficult times".

Nine Irish Premiership clubs have opted to furlough their players and staff as the pandemic has ground sport to a halt across the world.

With no top flight games played since 7 March, it is not clear when, how and if the season will be able to resume.

Along with Sport NI, NIFL has presented its clubs with with a range of support networks that are available immediately.

"We are aware of the importance of mental health at this time," said a NIFL statement.

Even prior to the coronavirus outbreak, league organisers had been placing a greater emphasis on a mental wellbeing support system.

The player welfare programme with mental health and addiction charity Sporting Chance remains in place for clubs, as does access to the sports chaplain.

Ciara Mageean celebrates after winning the 3,000m at the Athlone International indoor meeting in February
Portaferry runner Ciara Mageean has already signed up to the Sport Wellbeing Hub

Sport Northern Ireland chief executive Antoinette McKeown said the initiative would "provide instant access to helpful information, guidance and screening that is tailored specifically to help care for our wellbeing needs".

"We developed The Sport Wellbeing Hub with Inspire to help you create your own wellbeing care-plan, as well as giving guidance on support through a guided self-assessment," added the Sport NI chief.

"It helps to provide the right help, right now, with online access to a range of fantastic and useful resources that are tailored to the user, which is so important at this challenging time."

Irish Olympic athlete Ciara Mageean revealed that she has already signed up to the Sport Wellbeing Hub.

"Ifound the i-helper and mood-tracker really useful. I'd highly recommend checking it out. Our mental health is so vital and right now is a challenging time for all of us," said the Portaferry athlete.

Ballymena United boss Jeffrey, who is a senior social worker, says the global pandemic is presenting challenges "we thought we'd never have to face".

"Sport NI has launched The Sport Wellbeing Hub. The guidance is straightforward, practical and a very good way of helping people look after their mental health. Together let's make sure our mental health is good and better," added the Ballymena manager.

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