Confusion over whether spectators can attend sports events in Northern Ireland

By Rebecca Black, PA
·2-min read

Northern Irish side Coleraine were left in an “impossible situation” after struggling to clarify whether they could allow supporters to attend their opening game of the Danske Bank Premiership season on Friday night.

The confusion came as fans turned up for the match against Ballymena United at Coleraine Showgrounds.

New strict regulations aimed at stemming the spread of coronavirus came into effect at 6pm on Friday for four weeks, shortly before the match was due to kick off.

Guidance states that elite training and competition can continue, both indoors and outdoors.

But the Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) said it received a letter from Communities Minister Caral Nu Chuilin advising 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.

All the supporters were later allowed into the Coleraine 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,” he said, adding they had been put in an “impossible situation”.

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

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