COVID 19 Update – Return to Junior Hockey

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Following the NI Executive’s announcement on the 14th October imposing stricter restrictions on the sport sector and the interpretations of the regulation published thereafter, the Ulster Hockey Management Board made the difficult decision to suspend all hockey activity until 14th November.  Like other team sports, we wanted to act responsibly and have played our part in helping to limit the spread of the virus.  We advised that this position would remain under regular review and the ongoing COVID situation would be monitored.

Throughout the restricted period, Ulster Hockey has continued to seek clarity on the regulation, whilst continuing to engage with Sport NI and the Department for Communities to advocate a safe return of sport, on account of the significant efforts taken to develop robust protocols and the efforts of our members to adhere to these.

At the time of writing this update, there has been no reference to the impact on sport in the announcements from the Executive regarding the restrictions to be imposed for the next number of weeks.  Over the course of the last number of days, the Management Board has considered a number of factors:

*   Discussions with senior officials at the Department for Communities where clarity was sought on both the wording of the current regulation and the intended principles of the restrictions
*   The approach being taken by the Department of Education regarding curricular Physical Education
*   The mental and physical health impact of the continued suspension of the sport
*   The views and opinions expressed by members and member clubs which have ranged from fully supportive of the suspension to strongly frustrated
*   Consultation with Hockey Ireland to ensure a consistent approach

Subject to any change in restrictions announced by the Executive over the coming days which may override this decision, the Management Board has decided that with immediate effect, socially distant non-contact training in pods of 15 (inclusive of the coach) is permitted at all players/teams under 18 in both clubs and schools.  The return of senior hockey training remains under review pending future Executive announcements and discussions with Hockey Ireland.

It is incumbent on the coaches and club officials to ensure that the sessions are managed appropriately and responsibly, with players maintaining a minimum distance of 1- 2 metres at all times.  There is to be no transfer of players between pods.  A COVID officer – with no other allocated role throughout the session – should be in attendance at all training sessions.

It is essential that we reiterate the importance of adherence to the Hockey Ireland return to sport protocols and in particular to those related to off-field factors such as travel to training.  Members should not car-share under any circumstances unless this is with members of their own household or social bubble.  In addition, clubs must continue to provide appropriate protective products (such as hand sanitiser and disinfectant) to all participants in training, socially distance at all times, wear face masks off the field of play and continue to collect the relevant data from players for the track and trace process.

Ulster Hockey wishes to acknowledge that it was a difficult but necessary decision to suspend hockey training over the last 4 weeks and recognises the frustrations of clubs and members throughout this situation.  We wish to express our sincere thanks to everyone in the Ulster Hockey family for their adherence to the restrictions over the last 4 weeks and we hope this announcement marks the first steps in a full return to the sport we all love.

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