The Department of Communities has formed an expert advisory panel to make recommendations regarding a safe return to sport. The panel includes personnel with specialist expertise and best practice experience in the application of sports medicine, sports science and performance practice (coaching / managing / competing).

The panel has met recently to consider sport protocols designed to ensure a safe and graduated return to training and competition. The panel functions in order to:

  • Provide advice/guidance to the Department to assist with medical complexities associated with the various sports return to training, contact training and ultimately to competition
  • Provide advice and guidance to Governing Bodies in relation to their protocols and give assurance that protocols are in line with Government guidance and the relevant regulations
  • Providing a mechanism to identify issues relating to a return to sport for escalation to the Department of Health and The Executive for further consideration where appropriate

MANAGEMENT OF RETURN TO TRAINING

The NI Executive announced that contact sport training could resume from 29th June. The panel strongly advises that this return to training in close physical contact / higher risk contact sports requires very careful management. A gradual phased approach is recommended for these sports, many being indoor sports and combat sports.

From 24th July, indoor sports are permitted in NI. As Covid-19 is airborne, exertion indoors potentially brings increased risk of infection spread. In addition, the risk increases further with the nature of combat sports as participants are brought into close (under 50 cm) proximity in a face to face manner. The risk of infection transfer from e.g. an asymptomatic participant with Covid-19 to another participant, is therefore extremely high. Thus cautious return to sport protocols must be implemented for these higher risk contact sports.

The panel recommends 3 broad phases to the return to these sports, covering athletes from the amateur to the elite/professional levels:

Phase 1 – Training without contact – social distanced drills / exercises. Until indoor training is permitted this should happen outside and currently in socially distanced groups of no more than ten persons, including the coach.

Phase 2 – Contact training with mitigation – this means that there is a gradual control of factors such as total accumulated contact time, type of contact and number of contact partners. Initially accumulated contact should be under 15 mins per session.

Phase 3 – Normal Training

Each sport should develop a set of protocols that explain how the environment has been adjusted and is controlled in order to ensure the safety of all involved – participants, coaches, parents etc. The Governing Body of each sport is responsible for the production and implementation of these protocols to ensure that the sport is progressing within the current, most up-to-date Public Health restrictions.

ENSURING A SAFE TRAINING ENVIRONMENT FOR ALL

The panel requests that any close physical contact indoor sport submits its protocols to the panel as soon as it is ready by using the following email address returntosport@sportni.net

Material to help sports create their protocols is available on the return to sport section of Sport NI’s website and also in many cases through each sport’s International Federation. However sports need to be aware that global body protocols are generic and it is essential that these are adapted to fit with particular restrictions in place within Northern Ireland.

Sport clubs operating need to have appropriate insurance cover for their activities. It is expected that in the current climate protocols that include appropriate sequencing of training elements would be essential.

In the sports community, we all have a responsibility to demonstrate leadership and ensure that a safe return to sport is possible for all. It is important for each sport to play its part in this challenge. The panel is committed to working constructively with close physical contact sports to ensure that participants can safely progress to enjoy their sport in the months ahead.