'Kids are crumbling and nobody seems to care' - Benny Coulter

Benny Coulter has demanded settings data from the government to prove children playing outdoors is not safe
Benny Coulter has demanded settings data from the government to prove children playing outdoors is not safe Benny Coulter has demanded settings data from the government to prove children playing outdoors is not safe

FORMER Down star Benny Coulter has hit out at the Stormont Executive and sporting bodies for “doing nothing” to help phase children back to outdoor sport and says he has watched many isolated youngsters around his area “crumbling” without play.

In a no holds barred interview, the 2010 Allstar footballer is perplexed by the lack of movement by the authorities and wants to see settings data that supports the continued prohibition of children’s outdoor sports.

Coulter is one of many high-profile sports figures who signed an open letter addressed to the First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill to act swiftly in restoring children’s outdoor sport.

Sports figures from rugby, hockey, swimming, golf, soccer, disability sports and GAA have lent their support to the campaign, which include Peter Canavan, Kieran McGeeney, Jane Adams, Stuart Dallas, Erin Getty and Gary Hamilton.

Children have been deprived of sporting activity for eight out of the last 11 months due to the Covid pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.

In a hard-hitting letter, it said: “The impact of these prolonged periods of the prohibition of organised sport has been devastating on our most vulnerable.

“We acknowledge the absolute necessity to make provision to minimise the risk of spreading the virus in our society.

“We do not believe that outdoor sport under adequate controls contradicts that approach. Sport often provides our children with their only means of escape from the Covid nightmare that we are all currently living through.”

Coulter fears that Irish society will have to deal with a mental health pandemic if we're not already on the cusp of one.

“I can see kids crumbling and nobody’s doing anything about it,” said Coulter.

“I believe it’s safe for kids playing outside with all the controls in place, absolutely it’s safe. I was involved in three teams last year and from the moment we opened there wasn’t one Covid case.

“We came to training changed and didn’t use the changing rooms, travelled separately. I can’t understand why everything has to close down.

“But the problem is people are accepting it. I blame the politicians and the sporting bodies. They’re doing nothing about it. Nobody is standing up for the kids. I had a conversation with Justin McNulty (SDLP MLA); he’s the only one who has said anything about this. Where’s the data? Let’s look at the facts.”

After retiring from top level football, Coulter has thrown himself into coaching and is currently looking after some of Mayobridge’s juvenile teams and is dismayed by the changing habits of children over the past 11 months.

“I signed the letter because I think the kids are struggling. None of the young people are outside. I spoke to my young lad last week, who’s 11, and asked him: ‘Are you not going outside?’ And he said: ‘There’s nobody about.’

“This was Saturday at two o’clock. He’d sit for five hours on the PlayStation. I took him out recently to do a bit of kicking and running and I couldn’t believe how far back he’d gone in terms of just running.

“He keeps asking me: ‘When are we going back to football?’ I cannot get my head around why they’ve stopped kids sport outside. We have done literally nothing since September.”

He added: “My lad would generally be very active but there are other lads who aren’t active and they’re not getting out and about and their parents maybe haven’t got the drive or the time to take them out. I can see kids being affected by this ban and many of them won’t want to return. But everyone seems just to accept it.”

Both the northern and southern administrations continue to defer to the medical advice and have opted for harsh lockdowns in a bid to keep infection rates down.