Hurling and camogie

Northern Ireland Sports Forum chief Ciaran Kearney pleads sports case over restrictions

Ciaran Kearney (left) appreciates the £25m rescue package from Stormont but says more can be done to assist the sector

NORTHERN Ireland’s Sports Forum chief Ciaran Kearney has pleaded with the Stormont Executive to give greater consideration to the lengths governing bodies are going to make their environments a safe place – while the Cushendall man spoke from personal experience about the absence of sport in his life.

The NI Sports Forum is an umbrella organisation that provides expertise and governance advice to over 70 sports bodies in the north, and also lobbies MLAs on a regular basis while communicating regularly with the Department of Communities and Sport NI.

While acknowledging the £25m rescue package for sport from Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín, Kearney said there were some things money can’t fix as sport bodies become increasingly frustrated at the perceived broad brush-stroke approach when Covid19 restrictions are introduced.

“We understand the health risks but we don’t believe they apply to sport,” said Kearney, who played and managed at his home hurling club Ruairi Og Cushendall.

“Sport has so many protocols, so many procedures, it’s such a controlled environment. We’ve heard the First Minister and Deputy First Minister talk about the role sport has played in regards to community resilience. That’s because it’s a well organised sector.

“We appreciate the £25m rescue package for sport and it will go a long, long way, and we have good relations with the Department of Communities and Sport NI. But in terms of the loss of habitual involvement, you can’t put a price on that. Finance can’t fix that.”

The Stormont Executive last night announced some restrictions will lift at the end of the current lockdown next weekend, including 'outdoor sports' - but more detail is required to see if it is feasible for sports clubs to return to the field of play.

Kearney, who now lives in Hilltown, decided to resume his hurling career with local club side Clonduff before the pandemic struck.

“I’d be comfortable enough in saying that I have struggled with the loss of my own sport.

“There were times this year I lost motivation and really struggled. I’m missing my sport massively too.”

Kearney revealed the NI Sports Forum has consistently lobbied MLAs and in more recent times has illustrated in great detail the impact the absence of sport is having on communities.

“All of the governing bodies are absolutely comfortable in saying that they are not aware of any transmission virus through the participation of sporting activity. Take, for example, gymnastics. Organisers were looking at the size of the venue and were not having anywhere near the normal participants. Every sport had been following the protocols."

On children’s outdoor sports, Kearney commented: “There is no evidence of transmission when kids are playing contact sport. Why aren’t they allowed to do that? Therefore, why are we faced with a lockdown when you see what’s going on elsewhere.”

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Hurling and camogie