Confusion over NI’s Covid rules as fans turn up at football

Football fans go through temperature checks at Coleraine Showgrounds. Credit: Presseye

New coronavirus restrictions in Northern Ireland have caused confusion for football teams, after Coleraine FC were left struggling to clarify if fans were allowed to attend Friday night’s game against Ballymena United.

The regulations only came into force less than two hours before kick-off, but doubt had been cast on whether or not supporters should be allowed into the Showgrounds.

Guidance states that elite training and competition can continue, both indoors and outdoors, while measures had been put in place to allow limited numbers of supporters.

However, the Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) said it had received a letter from Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín advising that it was “necessary to stop spectators from attending sporting events”.

Coleraine chairman Colin McKendry said some fans were already inside the grounds when he arrived, while others were initially kept outside while they sought clarity from police.

Some fans got into the ground while others were kept outside amid the confusion. Credit: Presseye

All the supporters were later allowed into the venue after it was deemed unsafe to keep them outside, risking a contravention of a rule limiting numbers who can gather public.

“We’ve put all the necessary safety requirements in place to adhere to the Public Health Agency,” Mr McKendry said, adding they had been put in an “impossible situation”.

First Minister Arlene Foster responded to developments on social media, stating that the regulations “do not ban spectators in the grounds of elite sports”.

Mrs Foster posted on Twitter: “The existing position is maintained permitting a limited number to attend. Preposterous for clubs to be told anything to the contrary.”

Ballymena United went on to win the game 1-0, after a first-half goal from Kofi Balmer.

Ballymena celebrate their goal against hosts Coleraine. Credit: Presseye