Review of 'broad brush' approach to grassroots sport needed: Ciaran Kearney

Ciaran Kearney (left), the executive manager of the NI Sports Forum, believes there is a need for the Stormont executive to have greater faith in sporting bodies across the north. Picture by Colm O'Reilly
Neil Loughran

THE executive manager of the Northern Ireland Sports Forum believes the “broad brush” approach to grassroots sports is in urgent need of review, and has called for the introduction of a tiered system to facilitate a gradual return in the coming months.

Ciaran Kearney was speaking during an NI Sports Forum conference call yesterday designed to highlight the impact Covid-19 is continuing to have on the grassroots development of sport and physical activity.

Representatives from the worlds of badminton, bowls, boxing, gymnastics and netball all laid out in stark terms the difficulties their sports have faced since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, with widespread fears expressed about retaining members once a return is finally permitted.

And Kearney believes applying the same set of rules across the entire sporting landscape is short-sighted.

“There are different types of indoors sports – gymnastics needs spotters, it needs support help. Badminton has two people across a net who will at no stage come in contact with each other. In bowls you can stand two or three metres away until it is your turn.

“Boxing obviously is a contact sport but there’s an element of being able to do individualised training in a boxing setting. In netball you’re sharing a ball but you can do activities that keep yourself two metres distance away.

“Outdoor, golf and orienteering are treated as full contact invasion sports – should that be the case? There’s a broad brush approach to all sports at the minute, indoor and outdoor, which we don’t believe is correct and we have communicated that to the Department of Communities.

“In a meeting last week, we informed MLAs and Sport NI that there should be an approach now that is similar to the early stages last year where there was a tiered system. Golf, orienteering, non contact non-invasion sports, should be tier one; they should be able to resume now.

“At a stage different sports went for the return of team-based activities in groups of 15 but no contact. If you offered that to quite a number of people now, being able to use their ball, I imagine that would be quite acceptable to be able to get some sort of activity done, or to be able to amend their game.”

The Cushendall native also feels there is a need for the Stormont executive to have greater faith in sporting bodies across the north to regulate and monitor a return in as safe a manner as possible.

He said: “Sport is so heavily regulated - even in a volunteer club you’re dealing with highly professional people who are massively concerned about the health and wellbeing of the people within their environment.

“They’re community-based settings, nobody wants to put anybody in harm’s way at any stage, so therefore they are putting in the regulations and restrictions around their sport to allow it to come back.

“I don’t think, and we have expressed this to government a number of times, that there is the element of understanding – maybe we could say trust – of allowing sport to run a safe and tidy ship.

“We have the protocols, we have the experience, we have the knowledge to be able to do that.”

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