Coronavirus in NI: Executive targets 17 July for competitive sport return

Ulster Gym
Elite athletes can resume indoor training from Monday

Competitive sport in Northern Ireland is set to resume from 17 July, the Executive has said.

The First and Deputy First Minister revealed the prospective dates on Thursday, adding that a comprehensive plan would be published on Monday.

Limited numbers of outdoor spectators will be allowed to attend games from 17 July, with those numbers increased two weeks later.

Additionally, elite athletes can resume indoor training from Monday 29 June.

Athletes classed as elite include Olympians, Paralympians, professional rugby and football players and cricketers.

During Thursday's daily briefing it was indicated that, should the virus remain controlled, indoor gyms can open from 10 July, with leisure centres welcoming the public back from 7 August.

Sport's welcome return

All competitive sport in Northern Ireland has been suspended since the middle of March, with the three-month hiatus bringing competition to a standstill.

Pressure has been building on the Executive to accelerate the return of sport, given the Republic of Ireland's decision to allow all sport to resume from 29 June.

It has been feared that the Republic's move could leave teams in the north, who play in cross-border competitions, at a distinct disadvantage when matches begin again.

Ulster Rugby will return to training on Monday before competitive action resumes in late August.

The province's players and staff will undergo Covid-19 testing provided by the IRFU this week, with Leinster and Munster already back in training.

Meanwhile the GAA has already revealed its roadmap which will begin with club championships before inter-county football takes centre-stage from October.

The return to action will come too late for the Irish Premiership, which was officially curtailed earlier this week, with the final standings to be decided by a mathematical formula.

With increased crowds now allowed to resume by 31 July it is understood the start of the new Irish League season may well be able to start as scheduled in August, or with a short delay.

The IFA will only say at this stage that they are "aware of today's developments around the return of limited crowds".

The Irish Cup will however go ahead during the last week of July, with the semi-finals planned to be played behind closed doors. It is not clear whether the Executive's announcement that limited spectators can attend live events will change the Irish FA's plans.

The IFA has said they are "aware of today's developments around the return of limited crowds".

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