Coronavirus: Future of NI sports clubs under threat without more Government funding - Kearney

'I'm really concerned' - Kearney

The coronavirus crisis is placing the future of Northern Ireland sports clubs in serious doubt, the Executive Manager of the NI Sports Forum has warned.

Ciaran Kearney has called for more Government financial support to help sporting organisations while they are unable to generate revenue.

His appeal comes as Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey MLA said she has instructed officials to work on support measures for the sector.

"I'm really concerned," said Kearney.

"This situation could last three, four or five months and, while sports clubs are stepping up to the mark in supporting government and their local communities at the minute, I am worried about what level of sports club there will be when this is all over.

"It is six to eight weeks down the line that I'd be really, really concerned about. I know some sports are really struggling, given their lack of income and the significant outgoings they still have.

"When this crisis ends, people will want to get back out to their sports clubs, so facilities need to be maintained to make sure sports clubs and organisations can meet the need when we are able to get out and be active again."

Kearney has called for the current Government support in Northern Ireland to be brought into line with that in England and Wales.

"Rates have been put on hold but that is only for three months. Sports organisations in England and Wales are getting a holiday on rates for a year - something similar would help us in Northern Ireland," he continued.

"Clubs in Northern Ireland can't access the small business relief scheme which is happening in England, but if they could that would also make a big difference."

Deirdre Hargey
Deirdre Hargey recognises the impact that the coronavirus crisis has had on sport

In a statement issued on Monday, the same day as Kearney made his appeal, Minister Hargey said officials will be looking to put in place immediate practical steps to support the sports sector.

"Sport NI will act this week to give security to funded Sports Governing Bodies, with relaxed protocols at this time," she said.

"It will facilitate the immediate release of remaining year 2019/20 grant balances sending £1m into club and high performance programmes.

"In addition, Sport NI will move to ensure early release of 50% of year 2020/21 grant awards into the club sector and 25% of awards into the high performance sector.

"This will release a further £1.4m to funded sports. The remainder of these grants will be made available immediately when we have clarity on when sports programmes can begin again and also when the Olympic and Paralympic Games will take place during 2021."

Hargey also added she would meet with sporting bodies to see if they can help their clubs and codes, and also how they will move forward once the current pandemic passes.

"If they can contribute financially then I think that would be a good thing," she added.

"I will talk with them to see how Covid-19 has had an impact on them as governing bodies and their organisations.

"Sport makes such a valuable contribution to our community and we are already seeing how sports teams are responding to that community need.

"I want to ensure that those organisations are sustainable, and that's why I want to engage with them over the coming weeks to announce a sports relief fund as we move forward in the short term."

Top Stories

Also in NI Sport