Sport Ireland moved last night to clarify a degree of uncertainty that has arisen around sporting activity and facilities in the top level of lockdown that had come into force from midnight.

Things are now clear and while it would have been better if the guidance had been signed off and issued 24 or even 48 hours earlier, it has to be considered in the context of such a fast-moving environment within Government and the need to get things absolutely right.

Once there were going to be some exceptions, clarity for the wider sporting ecosystem became a higher priority than in March when the closure notice was universal.

Better then to get it right rather than quick but now this scenario has been played out the sector will be better prepared for next time.

There were two principal areas where there was confusion. The first was in Tennis where clubs had originally been advised they could open but then had that rescinded within hours.

The second was in gym facilities which to be fair fall largely outside the remit of Sport Ireland and where most had seen the need to close but others had tried to push the regulations.

An online petition had secured 50,000 signatures by the time clarity came out and the statement carried in full does make specific reference to facilities, leisure centres and swimming pools.

There is still the exemption for elite athletes which means that if you are an athlete on the 2020 International Carding Scheme or with a prospect of competing in Tokyo next year, you will be able to train at a facility, so long as the facility can open. It is likely then that the Sport Ireland Campus will remain open but regional facilities will have to weigh up the costs of opening in a secure environment for what could be a single athlete to train.

The statement is an overview and states that individual sports will still be issuing their own protocols for a return to action when that comes onto the horizon.

Scenario planning for that will already have begun and every time this happens, the playbook will be a little thicker and better understood by all.

Here is the Sport Ireland statement in full.

As Ireland has moved to Level 5 of the Framework for Restrictive Measures, the Return to Sport Expert Group has issued guidance on participation in sport for what is expected to be the next six-week period.

The Government’s guidance on Level 5 is clear, with the risk to public health meaning that individuals are asked to stay at home, with certain exceptions.

With regard to sport, the restrictions applicable in Level 5 are as follows:

  • No training or matches should take place with the following exceptions:
  • Non-contact training can continue for school-aged children, outdoors in pods of 15
  • Professional, elite sports and senior inter-county Gaelic games, horse-racing and greyhound racing are permitted to continue behind closed doors
  • All other training activities should be individual only.
  • No exercise or dance classes are permitted.
  • Gyms/leisure centres/swimming pools closed.
  • Exercise within 5 kilometres of home.


As they are not recognised as essential services, the decision of Government is that all gyms, leisure centres, swimming pools and other sports facilities must close in the Level 5 restrictions. This includes both indoor and outdoor sports facilities.

It is permitted to open sports facilities for training sessions and scheduled matches for the exempted categories of sport, i.e. high performance, professional and senior inter-county Gaelic games. It will also be permitted to open outdoor sports facilities for structured training sessions by school-aged children, i.e. those aged 18 years and younger, in pods of no more than 15, under the supervision of designated coaches and in compliance with approved COVID-19 protocols and all relevant public health guidance.

During these training sessions, it will only be permitted for participants and relevant coaching and support personnel to be present. In the case of children’s sport, parents will be permitted to attend for child safeguarding purposes, however, they will be required to comply with social distancing and other public health advice.

Professional & Elite Sport

Professional and elite sport must adhere to comprehensive protocols, which ensure extraordinary levels of control and compliance are in place.

Professional and elite sport is defined below;

  • Professional sportspeople or sportspeople who participate within professional competition.
  • A Member of a high-performance team funded by Sport Ireland.

Those who compete at major international events including European and World Championships, Olympic and Paralympic Games. It is advised that these are senior athletes only within one of the following categories:

  • Athletes on the 2020 International Carding Scheme
  • Players on the 2020 Team Ireland Golf Scheme
  • Senior riders in Show-Jumping, Eventing & Dressage
  • Senior team players in Hockey, Cricket, and Rugby Sevens.

Inter-county sport refers specifically to senior competition organised by the Gaelic Athletic Association, the Ladies Gaelic Football Association or the Camogie Association.

It is important to note that protocols, as they apply to each sport, will be prepared and communicated directly by the respective National Governing Bodies.

Non-contact training for school-aged children
Further guidance on non-contact training will be issued by the Government. The following is advised:

Underage activity refers to those in primary and secondary school who are aged 18 years and younger
Participants and coaches may travel beyond the 5km limit to attend training. Car-pooling should continue to be avoided
Outdoor facilities may open only to allow the activity to take place. Only those participating in and conducting the training session should attend.
It is important to note that protocols as the apply to each sport will be prepared and communicated directly by the respective National Governing Bodies.



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