Northern Ireland Sports Forum chief Ciaran Kearney "disappointed" with CMO comments on outdoor sports

Northern Ireland Sports Forum chief Ciaran Kearney  
Northern Ireland Sports Forum chief Ciaran Kearney  

NORTHERN Ireland Sports Forum chief Ciaran Kearney has expressed his “disappointment” at Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride’s comments that car-sharing and the sharing of changing rooms were problem areas for outdoor sports.

Kearney insisted the two issues the Chief Medical Officer drew attention to were “moot” reasons to keep outdoor sport under the spotlight.

Speaking on Monday, the day before the Northern Ireland Executive’s announcement to relax some restrictions – including outdoor sports – Dr McBride was responding to a question after having just received the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“Outdoor sports carry less risk, not zero risk, because of the activities around that,” he said.

“It’s really important that the Executive decides that it’s time to make progress in those areas. Things like car-sharing, those are the risks, sharing changing rooms, sharing common areas.

“Those are the risks associated with that sort of activity. This virus hasn’t gone away. It’s not going to go away and we need to adapt our lives to deal with it.”

Kearney, however, was keen to point out that changing rooms had been off-limits for the past 12 months and would remain so going forward and also questioned the CMO for citing car-sharing as another area of concern.

“The CMO stated on Monday morning that they had to consider the return to sport in terms of the use of changing rooms and car-sharing,” said Kearney.

“Changing rooms haven’t been used for the last year, and nobody is asking for changing rooms to be utilised. For the CMO to state that changing rooms are a concern was disappointing and to state car-sharing is a concern – I understand the latter – but sports have been clear to their clubs that they should not be car-sharing.

“Sports are following the guidelines, but for that to be re-iterated is disappointing.”

Kearney, who's Executive Manager of NI Sports Forum which is an umbrella organisation for over 70 sports, highlighted the professionalism of the governing bodies and sports clubs in following COVID protocol.

And if there were more guidelines to be adhered to, Keaney insisted sports clubs would meet them in order to ensure a safe and smooth return to activity.

“There may need to be a little bit of a review of protocols that were submitted previously, to make sure they’re still fit for purpose, and if the Executive is asking for one or two more measures, then that’s fine.

“If certain sports are not adhering to their protocol, then that needs to be realised. But in the vast majority of cases sport has been so responsible. If sport had strong protocols at the start of last year, I believe that a lot of sports could return tomorrow.”

On April 12 groups of 15 will be allowed to train outdoors together but with no competitions with other clubs or teams are prohibited until a later date.

Indoor sport remains on the hard shoulder but Kearney is confident that sector will be equipped to move in the not too distant future.

“We believe sports are responsible enough and hopefully there is light at the end of the tunnel. There is obviously ongoing work for indoor sport but indoor sport will be strong and robust in their protocols. Some of those sports feel it’ll not be long before they return and they could do it very responsibly.

Mark Wilson, chairman of Banbridge Swimming club, is already on the record as saying protocols for this indoor activity is as robust as it can ever be.

During one of the NI Sports Forum’s conference calls earlier this year, Wilson said: “Let us demonstrate that we can run safely because I believe we can.

“We’re going to lose a generation. I’m really worried about 14-17-year-olds because they may not come back. We need to be allowed to come back.

“We have to live with Covid. I don’t have the answers of how to cure the virus but I have the answers of how to run a club safely and I’m quite happy to be scrutinised by the government. And if I’m doing something wrong, smack me on the wrist, tell me to do it right or close me, but give me the chance.”

The NI Executive announced relaxations for both golf and tennis on April 1 as they are sports played with much smaller numbers.

Kearney added: “Alongside Sport NI and the Return to Sport Expert Group, we are making sure that our members are clear on the regulations and if there are any issues or challenges, then they can engage with ourselves or Sport NI and make sure they are robust.”

Kearney says the NI Sports Forum plans to track participation rates in sports over the next 12 months - concentrating on gender, age, disability and ethnicity - and also believes there should be more joined up thinking between government departments and councils going forward in order to place a higher value on sport in society.

“Sports governing bodies are keen on pushing the importance of sport. Do I think we could do better? Yes.

“There also needs to be greater engagement across government departments, greater engagement across councils. How much is the Department of Communities engaging with the Department of Health about physical activity and getting people active and the power of sport in, for instance, a rural community. All this needs to be joined up.”

It was a year ago on Tuesday the various sports bodies met in Stormont Hotel to discuss the implications of COVID19, not knowing they would be inactive for virtually a year.

“There was talk at that time that this could go on for three, four or five months,” said Kearney.

“Obviously it’s been difficult for governing bodies, it’s been difficult for sports clubs, but take out the financial aspect of it - it’s the habitual involvement in sport that I hope we don’t lose.”