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Sports bodies offered hope strict Covid-19 curbs could be eased

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Ballerina Niamh O'Flannagain joined with Members from the Performing Arts sector of Ireland to hold a silent, Covid-friendly protest outside Leinster House in Dublin. Photo: Karl Ffrench

Ballerina Niamh O'Flannagain joined with Members from the Performing Arts sector of Ireland to hold a silent, Covid-friendly protest outside Leinster House in Dublin. Photo: Karl Ffrench

Ballerina Niamh O'Flannagain joined with Members from the Performing Arts sector of Ireland to hold a silent, Covid-friendly protest outside Leinster House in Dublin. Photo: Karl Ffrench

Sports organisations have been offered hope that strict Covid-19 curbs on their activities can be eased in the New Year.

Junior Minister Jack Chambers has written to more than 60 National Governing Bodies (NGBs) from the GAA to basketball and martial arts seeking suggestions for how Covid-19 regulations can be adapted to allow more participation in sports.

There is mounting concern in Government circles at the impact of restrictions on sports activities particularly those involving young people.

The issue has been raised directly with Taoiseach Micheál Martin by Fianna Fáil TDs in recent weeks.

On Wednesday Dun Laoghaire TD Cormac Devlin asked for restrictions on children’s matches to be relaxed while Galway West’s Eamon Ó Cuív made the case for dance classes to be allowed.

Dublin Bay South TD Jim O’Callaghan has been particularly vocal about the need for teenagers to be allowed play competitive matches albeit without spectators. He has warned that young people are dropping out of sports and it is damaging to physical and mental health.

Under the current Level 3 Covid-19 restrictions outdoor training is allowed provided it’s non contact and there are pods of no more than 15 people.

Indoors it’s individual training only and no exercise or dance classes are allowed with ballet, gymnastics, basketball, , raquetball, squash and Zumba cited as examples of what’s prohibited.

No matches should take place with the exception of professional and elite sports and approved inter-county Gaelic games. These all have to take place behind closed doors. Dance classes don’t fall under Mr Chambers’s remit.

But he has written to sports organisations. He told NGBs the Government is “acutely aware of the vital role that sport has played” to the physical and mental well-being of people during the pandemic. He acknowledged that this week’s exit from Level 5 restrictions to Level 3 represented only a “partial improvement” when it comes to sporting activities.

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He also said that looking ahead to 2021, the Government wants to ensure sport can continue to play the “maximimum possible role” in sustaining people’s general morale.

Mr Chambers said his Department and Sport Ireland have been asked by the Government to “engage urgently” with sporting bodies in the coming weeks “to consider all available evidence and data for the purposes of informing the development of tailored proposals and approaches for future mitigation measures.”

“It is envisaged that such proposals would enable the Government to review and potentially adapt the suite of public health measures currently applying to sport and exercise activities,” he added.

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