We have issued letters to the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and the Communities Minister for Northern Ireland, urging for the Executive to provide clarity on why gymnastics clubs in Northern Ireland are not able to reopen and when they will be able to.
Below is a copy of our letter to the First Minister, Arlene Foster.
Dear First Minister,
On the behalf of the registered clubs and leisure centres that offer gymnastics to tens of thousands of participants across Northern Ireland, we at British Gymnastics are deeply concerned about the lack of clarity that has been provided for the sports sector and we want to share with you fears that we have, not only for our clubs for whom gymnastics is their livelihood, but also for the physical and mental health of our gymnasts who are mainly children and are not able to access the sport they love.
Gymnastics clubs across England, Scotland and Wales have all been allowed to reopen in recent weeks after circuit breaker lockdowns, welcoming children back to the sport after a break away. We cannot understand why a similar course of action has not been taken for the sporting sector in Northern Ireland, and where there is a lack of evidence to show that this is where the virus is being spread.
We have worked with representatives from the UK Government, and official bodies in Northern Ireland, to adapt our sport to allow for its safe resumption and, over the last few months, clubs have worked extremely hard to implement the required measures to make their facilities Covid-secure. Using extensive resources from our Step Forward Plan, our three-phase recovery package for the sport, they have set up rigorous cleaning schedules, completed Covid-19 risk assessments, embedded social distancing into all of their activities, and have adapted their operations to avoid close contact throughout their facility. And all of this effort has proven to have a positive effect on limiting the spread of the virus according to our insight.
In a survey of 502 gymnastics clubs across the UK, there were 1.7 million visits between 25th July and 26th October and during that time, there were only 97 confirmed cases of Covid-19 with 2,759 people told to isolate. In Northern Ireland, the number of cases were significantly lower with just two confirmed cases, neither of which were transmitted in the gymnastics environment due to the strict measures that are in place.
For hundreds of people, gymnastics is not just a sport. For them, gymnastics is their livelihood and is a full-time or part-time job and their business contributes to the local economy. We also have many dedicated volunteers that run clubs and are passionate about providing opportunities for children of all ages to take part in the sport. These restrictions are severely effecting the way that gymnastics can operate despite the fact that clubs can offer safe, socially distanced session sizes and can support effective contact tracing through their robust registration processes.
Gymnastics is a sport that can be carried out safely and individually with the appropriate measures in place. And whilst we understand that individual training can recommence, this is not viable for gymnastics and more consideration and clarity is needed for the long term sustainability of our clubs and the sport.
Tens of thousands of children take part in gymnastics sessions in Northern Ireland every week and it is widely recognised as a sport that develops physical, social and emotional skills at a very early age. These foundation skills and activity habits support them to retain an active lifestyle as they get older. Unfortunately, we have already been made aware that many young gymnasts have left the sport due to them being unable to train or access their club, and clubs are struggling to survive as they can’t offer sessions and activities for all of their members. We fear that this will intensify the longer the restrictions limit the way the sport can be carried out. I urge you to take this into consideration when making future decisions for indoor sport, to allow for gymnastics to resume in a more feasible way and to keep participants engaged.
I appreciate that these are tough decisions to make and that they are made in an effort to curb the spread of Covid-19, protect the NHS and save lives. But nevertheless, the sports sector has proven that it can operate in a safe way and physical activity plays a vital role in keeping people healthy.
Gymnastics clubs are well equipped to keep children active safely and we would be grateful if these measures could be reviewed, to consider the impact this will have on the health and the future of indoor sport.