COVID-19: Irish Examiner and Federation CEO Series – Miriam Malone, CEO Paralympics Ireland

COVID-19: Irish Examiner and Federation CEO Series – Miriam Malone, CEO Paralympics Ireland

Paralympics Ireland CEO Miriam Malone on the balance and perspective required to steer her organisation to the most challenging times in history.

Q: How has this time been for you personally?

A: It’s been an interesting time, combining work and home – I realised early on that the experiences people had in this situation varied widely according to their circumstances, whether they could work from home, what age their kids were and so on. I was lucky that these were all positive for me. I could work from home, my kids are 11 and 12 so they’re mostly independent learners, and I have supportive family and colleagues. I was able to adapt and it worked out well from my perspective.

Q: Have you found out anything that you will stay with you once this is over?

A: Overall it’s been an opportunity for self-reflection and resetting priorities. The main thing has been to keep balance and perspective when it comes to work and life, appreciating all the positive things. From a work perspective, seeing our team in action throughout has been very rewarding. They’re very committed and rose to the challenge, managing extremely well in the crisis. The postponement of the Games was a huge challenge, though.

Q: How are you keeping in touch with your members?

A: We’re Zooming away, using Microsoft Teams, all of that. At the start we drew up a stakeholder mapping exercise and plan, looking to see how we’d stay in contact with all our stakeholders, and that’s worked very well for us. In the middle of the lockdown we actually had an AGM online, and it was our best-attended so far.

Q: What kind of 2020 had you been looking forward to before this struck?

A: The postponement of the Games was massive, obviously, because we’d been so focused on that not just this year but for the last number of years. When the decision came in March to postpone it was nearly welcome because the world had been changing so rapidly at that stage. There was almost a sense of relief that a decision had finally been taken.

Disappointed as we were, it was completely understandable. Nobody wanted to be taking off to Tokyo under these conditions. But it was a huge change for the athletes. Operationally we could adjust, but the athletes were gearing up to peak at a particular time, so it was a massive adjustment for them.

Q: How severe are the financial losses you anticipate for your organisation?

A: It’ll be interesting. We have two challenges from that perspective. One is the loss of revenue from a fundraising and sponsorship point of view, while the second issue is the ring-fencing of expenditure that would have been geared towards the Games. We still need all that funding, so we have to ring-fence it and carry it through to 2021 – while also supporting our athletes this year. So the challenge is to reduce costs as much as we can while also supporting athletes so we can maintain the level required to compete at Tokyo next year.

Q: What kind of Government supports and direction will help in the crisis?

A: We’ve had a good response from Sport Ireland and the Government overall, to be fair. The guarantee of international athlete carding was a great comfort for the athletes, for instance.

Sport Ireland has engaged with us all the way through, which is great, and we’re lucky to get a significant percentage of our funding from them. It’s been great having that confirmed.

The two outgoing Ministers, Shane Ross and Brendan Griffin, have been very good and I’d like to thank them for that – they kept engaging with CEOs to ensure they listened to what challenges we were having and to adapt as much as they could in a proactive way to deal with those.

Q: Was there a moment you realised this was a challenge on an entirely different scale?

A: Our chief medical officer, Dr Martin McConaghey, was raising the potential problems the virus could cause as early as January, and we had to cancel some competitions at the end of February, which was a little ahead of the big decisions.

Some of the athletes mightn’t have fully understood why we did that then but the big changes were coming, and of course the postponement of the Games was the other big one.

Q: How is morale among members?

A: It’s been good among the athletes. Obviously it’s a very frustrating time for them and their support groups when sport closed down.

It’s particularly frustrating for high-performance athletes who are used to a particular lifestyle which they build around training and competing. Asking them to slow down is a big ask when for them training and competition are their whole careers.

They’ve done really well, though – they’re very resilient and they’re delighted to be getting back to training.

The key for us is to get back to international competition when that time comes. The fact that the Games weren’t cancelled but were postponed, and the fact that there’s a date now in 2021 for the rescheduled Games, was a morale boost for everybody. It’s a real sign there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

Q: Do you see any overseas solutions worth applying in Ireland?

A: It’s been a time of reflection, as I said, and a time to take a strategic look at where we’re going. From our side we have a unique scenario in that we’re the national governing body for two different sports, para athletics and para swimming. Overseas, national governing bodies in countries like the Netherlands have moved from a situation like ours to putting these sports in with their able-bodied equivalents with very encouraging results.


COVID-19: Irish Examiner and Federation CEO Series – Chris Kitchen, CEO Triathlon Ireland

COVID-19: Irish Examiner and Federation CEO Series – Chris Kitchen, CEO Triathlon Ireland

What was the moment you realised that this was a challenge on an entirely different scale?

It was mid-March. I hadn’t had a holiday for two years so my wife and I went over to St Lucia. Much to her annoyance I take my laptop with me so I’m not coming back to loads of emails. I was having a chat with our operations director and suddenly realised that we would have to shut the office down. We knew then that this would be a huge problem for TI even if we didn’t realise it would go on so long.

That must have ruined the holiday.

It certainly distracted us a bit! We actually caught one of the last flights out of St Lucia on BA [British Airways]. They were shutting down the island the next day so we only got back by the skin of our teeth.

You have worked in IT, been a company owner and even an ice cream van salesman but has anything in your past professional experience been any help in dealing with everything that has happened this last four months?

It’s on a totally different scale. I have been through about three recessions and I’ve had to take difficult decisions in the past in order to keep companies going so that they could carry on but this is very, very different. We are used to working remotely anyway but I have to say that the staff’s reaction has been phenomenal.

Triathlon Ireland made huge strides in recent years with increases in membership, events, the number of clubs and your operating budget but what has the financial impact of all this been?

Similar to many sports. It has maybe hit us harder than some actually because we had three distinct funding streams with the funding from Sport Ireland and Sport Northern Ireland making up 30%, almost 40% of it from membership and the remainder from sponsorship and events. Two of those streams dropped through the floor so diversifying income streams as Sport Ireland asked us to do has probably hit us more than some sports that are solely reliable on Sport Ireland for their funding.

We had a drop of something like 85% in membership between March and June, a 98% drop in events income in the same time and a 100% drop in one-day licences that we sell to events so it has been a massive hit for us. We normally sanction 200-plus events a year. We will probably sanction 30-40 this year.

We had built up a big reserve which has given us some resilience and we would have had to make some redundancies and some short-time working arrangements if it hadn’t been for those reserves and the wage support scheme from the government. We’re hurting. We’ve cut our expenditure massively and next year is a major year with the Olympics and you would worry about membership as well.

Will TI be looking to access the government’s recently announced rescue package for sport?

We will but we don’t want to be taking money. We want to do something for it. We are not just going with the begging bowl. We want to deliver something and that may be in increased participation because we have had so many more people in Ireland who have gone out for a run, a walk or a bike. We would like to attract a lot of those people.

When are we likely to see triathlons being held again, bearing in mind that this is a fluid situation?

We cancelled events for March, then April and up to June and it is very fluid. We are now into phase three of the roadmap so we can get events back up and running. We have about 30 on the calendar and four or five major events from the BMW National Series. They will kick off from July 20th onwards with social distancing in mind. We all have to be so sure that there are no spikes in infections so we are very cautious.

We are hoping to get a few open water triathlons up and running from mid-July into August and then September before the water gets too cold. Some of the duathlons that we would have had in March and April are being put back to October. Some events will likely get merged with the costs of carrying on and the social distancing element adds to that cost. It would be nice to have a crystal ball, wouldn’t it?

The CEO Series with Triatlon Ireland's Chris Kitchen: 'We are not going with the begging bowl, we want to deliver something'

You are vice-president of the European Triathlon Union. How is the roadmap back to training and competition elsewhere?

Most of the European nations now are easing lockdown, even the Italians and the Spanish who are probably two or three weeks ahead of us with the virus and the easing. There has been a massive hit across Europe in terms of events and some of the countries have allowed their elite athletes to have swim training for quite some time. That was a bit of a problem for us until the pools reopened. It still means we are a bit behind some of the European nations.

We are still trying to run the European Championships in Estonia on the 29th of August and then there will be another half-dozen events up to the last one in Portugal in November. We send 300-plus athletes to compete in the European Championships every year because we have five-year age bands in the sport and that has been a major topic of discussion among the countries recently. If you don’t have the income from all those people coming then it is very hard to run the event.

You are finishing up as CEO soon after eight years in the role. What are your reflections on the experience?

I was hoping to go out on a real high in September so this has been a real dampener in that sense but it has been absolutely brilliant overall. I’ve loved it. When I joined we had nine employees and we have built up a team of 22 now and I’m gobsmacked every day at their dedication and commitment to triathlon. It has been an absolute pleasure to work with them.

It has been incredibly rewarding to see them come on. We were just coming out of the last recession when we took a lot of them on. We were getting fully qualified sports scientists applying for admin roles, 60-100 really highly qualified people applying for one job and they are now people delivering major projects and coming up with ideas. It’s been great for me.

I’ll be very sad to go but it was time. I said it when I first took the job that I would look to do two Olympic cycles, even if this one will go on through to next year now. Meeting targets is what I love and live by and we’ve been doing that. I’m staying in Irish sport on a consultancy basis and I’d love to keep my interest in triathlon in Ireland in some shape or form as well.

COVID-19: Irish Examiner and Federation CEO Series – Sinead McNulty, Camogie Association Ard Stiúrthóir

COVID-19: Irish Examiner and Federation CEO Series – Sinead McNulty, Camogie Association Ard Stiúrthóir

The Camogie Association was looking to build on a record All-Ireland final attendance and bed in widely welcomed trial playing rules when the pandemic struck. Brendan O’Brien spoke to Ard Stiúrthóir Sinéad McNulty as the sport adapts and prepares for its return to play.

What was the moment you realised that this was a challenge on an entirely different scale?

It was in March. I was in the Croke Park Hotel and about to meet Helen O’Rourke from LGFA and have a chat when we got a call that the government had announced the schools were closing. So putting in a full suspension of on-field activity from the 12th of March onwards was the moment, really.

Has anything in your past professional experience been a help in dealing with this?

I was working in the public sector when the Employee Control Framework [no renewal of contracts, no new posts] came in during the last crisis post-Celtic Tiger. At that point we had major changes in how we employ staff in the public sector and having to deal with that and restructure and look at budgets and operational plans and keeping facilities open. That is probably the closest I have been to something like this but it is not nearly on the same level.

Both are highly uncertain, changing landscapes. Does that help?

The difference with this is that you didn’t know what was coming day to day. In the financial crisis there was somebody somewhere who could plan the way out of it, or who had been in a financial crisis before. We are all going through a global pandemic for the first time and at the same time together, more or less.

There was no guide book or road map. We are already on our third iteration of the road map for Gaelic games. People look to you for answers to the questions they have and it is really challenging when you don’t have those answers and a lot of the same questions.

Where was the Camogie Association at when Covid-19 struck?

We were in a very exciting place. 2019 was a fantastic year for us. We had a record attendance at our All-Ireland finals. We had growth in membership, we had new clubs springing up and funding from Sport Ireland for our Mná programme. And we had record viewership between streaming and, most importantly, on TV. The Camogie final was the most watched women’s sports event of 2019 on TV. That’s where we were coming from.

We had a full team of staff for 2020 after having had a couple of vacancies in the last few years. We were launching our new National Development Plan in April at Congress and bringing sponsors on board across all of our competitions. So it was going to be a really exciting year.

We will still look back at the end of the year at things we have achieved, albeit that they are different from what we intended in January. Right now we are excited about people being back on the pitch, a return to some sort of normality.

When will the National Development Plan be launched and is it altered by the pandemic?

It hasn’t been formally launched. Given the uncertainty we said we would hold off on a formal launch. It’s hard to build up excitement about new sports activities when you’re not allowed to go outside the door.

The pandemic had started when we were finalising the plan itself so we did temper the ambitions for 2020 but it is still a plan for up to 2023 and all of the actions within remain absolutely valid despite Covid, like our move towards the online world which has been helped by Covid. We had 6-700 people taking part in training weeks online some weeks. That’s record levels for us.

How severe do you think the financial losses will be for your organisation and for the sport?

Right now we are looking at it with slightly more optimistic views that we were 6-8 weeks ago. Initially we were looking at a reduction of 80% of our revenue for the year. We have been impacted on grants, on gate receipts. We were really concerned about membership if we would not be in a position to deliver games during the year.

Right now it is looking at about a 40-45% reduction but that is based on the games programme being delivered to the end of the year. So we are reviewing it every week. The temporary wage subsidy scheme has been huge for us and has enabled us to keep all of our staff on board and keep working and engaging with our members. Without that we would be telling a different story today.

The CEO Series with camogie's Sinéad McNulty: 'There have been some tough decisions we have had to take'

What happens if a second wave of Covid-19 materialises and sport is shut down again?

The reality is we don’t know. If you listen to what public health authorities are saying, they have developed a five-stage road map so it really depends on the scale of any second wave. We know what we need to do now and how do it, things like the health questionnaire and online resources.

There is talk of the reproduction rate being at 1 or even over and that is worrying. It would be hugely impactful and people’s confidence has been damaged. We have members through all age groups who have underlying conditions and don’t have a huge amount of confidence about going back.

They would be severely hit if there was a second wave. We have various sets of contingency plans from your best-case to your worst-case. We’ve already seen things that were unheard of, like moving our All-Ireland final into December. Who would have ever thought that?

When will the inter-county fixture list be published?

We plan to do the draw for our championship fixtures next week. The roadmap is very clear that inter-county training cannot recommence until the 14th of September. It’s up to us to ensure that the structure allows some games for everyone.

It’s not what we had planned at the start of the year but we are essentially trying to get nine months of activity into an eight-week programme and that is really challenging for everyone. The positive for a lot of people is a full club programme right up to the All-Ireland final which will take place next March.

There have been some tough decisions we have had to take about particular events and at age grades, and it has been really disappointing for people in those, but we have looked at it from every possible direction and come up with the best programme that we could to give as many games to as many people as possible. It’s not perfect but 2020 has been a really challenging year.

The decision to cancel the All-Ireland minor championship has been heavily criticised. Where is the association with regard to this now?

It was one of the tough decisions that was made and there were a number of factors that went into the decision-making process. We have received an appeal on that decision. That is being considered through the process and procedures so I can’t really talk about that any more at the minute.

Last year’s Galway-Kilkenny final came on the back of widely welcomed rule changes and it was the highest-scoring decider in 32 years. So how frustrating was it that the pandemic shut things down with further rule changes being trialled and the sport gaining momentum?

We had a very good conversation with all the stakeholders in advance of the trial rules. We were very excited. The first couple of weekends went super and then we had four weekends of wet weather warnings and an awful lot of matches cancelled. It was really frustrating not to see the full programme delivered but we look forward to trial rules in future competitions

COVID-19: Irish Examiner and Federation CEO Series – Matt McKerrow, CEO Cycling Ireland

COVID-19: Irish Examiner and Federation CEO Series – Matt McKerrow, CEO Cycling Ireland

Matt McKerrow, chief executive of Cycling Ireland, tells Brendan O’Brien about the boom in the numbers buying bikes and cycling through the shutdown, along with the road forward now that the government has lifted all remaining restrictions on sport

The CEO series - Matt McKerrow: ‘You hear people who are comparing bikes to toilet roll in terms of supply and demand’
Matt McKerrow: ‘We are seeing a bike boom now in terms of sales and the active piece being championed by government and backed by funding as well. Hopefully, people will continue to see the benefits of cycling long after the pandemic.’ Professional cyclist Imogen Cotter during a training session at her home in Ruan, Clare. Picture: David Fitzgerald

Q: What was the moment you realised that this was a challenge on an entirely different scale?

A: Whilst a number of people would point to that week of March 12/13 when the schools were closed and everyone started working from home, the one that resonates with me was the day that the 2k radius was imposed. That to me felt a lot more restrictive. You thought then, ‘hey, they’re really serious here’. Until that point, it still seemed a little bit as though it may come and go quite quickly.

Q: Has anything in your past professional experience been a help in dealing with this?

A: I’ve obviously had plenty of challenges in my career but this one outdoes everything. The big lesson that I would draw upon is to try and be grateful in the face of adversity and look out for the silver linings or the opportunities that come. At no point through this was there a scenario where people couldn’t ride their bikes, even when we were quite constrained by guidelines. We are seeing a bike boom now in terms of sales and the whole active piece being championed by government and backed by funding as well. Hopefully, people will continue to see the benefits of cycling long after the pandemic.

Q: You predicted losses to Cycling Ireland approaching half a million euro and detailed huge drops in membership when we spoke last month. You also said that was the ‘tip of the iceberg’ for the sport at large so how severe is the financial impact looking now?

A: The full implications won’t be known until we get back into a new normal. We have taken a significant hit on membership, on programmes, on event revenue. I guess the corresponding side is that we have been able to tighten the belt on expenditure wherever we can but the losses are still going to run into the hundreds of thousands of euros.

Q: The Government’s €70m rescue package for sport was announced last week. Will Cycling Ireland be looking to apply for some of the €10m set aside for the 78 NGBs aside from the ‘Big Three’?

A: We would be mad not to. We’ll have to wait and see what the criteria is for that and how it is structured but how I understand it is that there is €10m of the €70m for NGBs and aimed at helping us plug the gaps or respond to the challenges. We are going to take on a lot of extra costs in terms of making clubs and programmes and our activities Covid-safe so we would hope that there is some support to help us meet those expenditures.

Q: Sports in New Zealand are still awaiting details of a similar package announced there last month…

A: Yeah, I know that system well having worked down there and the other thing for them is their timing was really good. That’s funding for the next four years so their regular funding cycle was coming up. It is great to look at things over there but I would always caution that you look at the context. You can’t always look at what works in the UK or New Zealand and dump it here. You have to overlay the Irish context. They have very minimal cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand and they have been able to contain it.

Q: The small print in the Irish government’s rescue package talks of funds being available to NGBs ‘in need of assistance to avoid closing’. That looks, on paper, to be a very high threshold so what is your reading of it?

A: I would expect that to avail of that funding you would have to demonstrate some downturn or some impact and so it will be one of two things: a retrospective ‘tell us what it cost you and we will plug the gap’ or it will be a ‘tell us what your plans are to respond to this and to be stronger after this and we will fund that’.

Q: All sport has been given the green light to return. How are Cycling Ireland and the cycling community at large set for this? Will we see a full resumption of activity?

A: There is a roadmap document on our website that largely follows the structure of the government one so it was initially done in five phases. What we are saying is that we are still phasing some activities. So all club activity comes back in phase three but it is quite an undertaking to organise even a small cycling event so it won’t be an immediate ‘turn the taps back on, there’s an event this weekend’. It will probably take a few weeks so it may well be mid- to late-July before some of these events come back onstream.

Q: You have mentioned before that there are an estimated 900 races around the country every year. Is there scope for many of them still going ahead in 2020?

A: To take a bit of guesstimate, we think somewhere between 300 and 350 events will still happen this year. We have stayed in touch with the event organisers and the clubs running the races and each time we get a bit more of an indication.

There might be still a few that pull out or don’t go ahead. We will also have a fairly comprehensive week of protocols and checklists and guidance for clubs and events. There may be some of those projected 300-350 events that don’t happen on the back of that. It might be something as simple as the club normally uses the local GAA club for logistics and the GAA club is not available or it can’t be used for one reason or another. There are still a lot of unknowns with it.

Q: So does all this mean that something like the so-called ‘slipstream effect’ is no longer an issue anymore?

A: We will have guidance documents that go out to the events. The slipstream thing is still there but we haven’t had any guidance from the UCI about that.

In the absence of a peer-reviewed study that states ‘this is the way it goes’ all we will be able to do is offer our advice to people and then it ultimately becomes a personal responsibility piece.

It’s not something we can make a regulation on but we can make people aware of it so they can make their own choice.

Q: How is cycling progressing or not in other jurisdictions right now?

A: Again, it comes back to the context, doesn’t it? There are a number of European countries where their professional teams and their squads are up and going much quicker than we have been able to. We are hoping that our riders won’t get left behind given we still hope to have an Olympics next year.

I was reading an article saying there have been 1.3m bikes sold in the UK since the pandemic. I don’t have a corresponding figure in Ireland but if you go by any of the bike shops, some of them are talking about an eight-fold increase in sales. We did a feature on Ireland AM the other morning with one of our staff demonstrating how you would teach your children to cycle. That had to be delayed by three weeks because we had arranged to give away a few bikes as part of a promotion and the bikes just weren’t available. They had all been sold. You’re hearing people who are comparing bikes to toilet paper in terms of supply and demand. I never thought I’d hear anyone saying bikes are the new toilet paper.

The CEO series - Matt McKerrow: ‘You hear people who are comparing bikes to toilet roll in terms of supply and demand’

Q: Three of the six major marathons have now been cancelled with New York and Berlin scrubbed this week. There are road cycling races cancelled on the UCI calendar as late as November this year. Where are we at in terms of the professional cycling scene?

A: There’s still a lot of unknowns. The World and European Road Championships are still set to take place later in the year. There’s some question marks about that and, regardless of whether they do or not, there are question marks as to whether we can travel or not. There’s not enough information to make solid decisions yet. It is just wait and see.

Q: Prof Paddy Mallon, an expert in infectious diseases, has said that a second wave is “inevitable” as restrictions are eased and foreign travel picks up again. What happens if sport is among any sectors shut down for another period of time?

A: We would all hope that will not be the case. We all responded to the pandemic having never done anything like that before so I guess if we get a second wave we have got some previous learnings and structures that we might lean back on.

Q: What would your message be to your clubs and sport?

A: The message is a resounding thank you to them for engaging in our online activities. You’ve probably seen our Zwift League that had 1,800 people competing. We were blown away by how successful that was and the engagement with it.

I would thank people for their patience and for their adherence to the guidelines, all they’ve done to date and all they will do as we plan to resume all club activities. (Funding Announcement): Government to provide €70 million Covid-19 funding package for Irish sport (Funding Announcement): Government to provide €70 million Covid-19 funding package for Irish sport

THE GOVERNMENT ARE set to provide €70 million in funding to assist Irish sport after the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The funding will see the three main sporting organisations – the FAI, the GAA and the IRFU – receive up to €40m, which will be allocated on a case-by-case basis and will be a direct response to each of their specifc needs with regard to ‘solvency and continued excistence’.

The announcement was made this evening by Ministers Shane Ross and Brendan Griffin.

Earlier Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had revealed that all sporting events can resume from 29 June.

A resilience fund of up to €10m will be made available for the other national governing bodies, ‘who find themslves in need of assistance to avoid closing’.

Separately there will be €15m made available in the form of a sports club resilience fund, where clubs will be required to demonstrate they are in need of assistance to avoid closing.

Then €5m will be used for a sports restart and renewal fund, targeting sports clubs who are deemed ineligible for the Government’s restart grants scheme.

The funding will be invested through four new grant schemes to be developed by Sport Ireland and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.


Sport Ireland will distribute the funding and they will also conduct a ‘robust grant application and assessment process’ for funding allocations to national governing bodies and clubs.

“The sport sector has been severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and many sporting bodies and clubs are experiencing significant financial challenges,” said Minister Ross.

“We have had extensive contact with the sector and it is clear that the challenge is enormous and is being felt at every level. While the scale of this package may seem extraordinarily large, it merely reflects the enormity of the challenges being faced by our sporting bodies.”

RTE (Funding Announcement): All sport to return on 29 June, €70m in government grants to be made available

RTE (Funding Announcement): All sport to return on 29 June, €70m in government grants to be made available

The government has announced that all sporting activity in the Republic of Ireland can resume from 29 June.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that most of the elements of easing coronavirus restrictions planned for Phases 4 and 5, including those relating to sport, had been brought forward to 29 June.

However, individual sporting organisations will decide how best to proceed after that date.

It is possible, according to Government sources, that most organisations might decide not to return to competitive action for some time, as they plan for adjustments that need to be made to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Strict limitations on spectators will still apply; the Taoiseach added: “We will all need to be careful. It will not be as it was before the start of the pandemic and for now sports will take place with very limited numbers of spectators.

“The virus hasn’t gone away.  We are all still susceptible to it.”

Mr Varadkar said earlier this week that he expected gatherings of less than 5,000 people might be possible from September but as of 29 June up to 200 can be present at outdoor events, rising to 500 from 20 July.

Minister for Sport Shane Ross has also announced a grants package of up €70 million to support the sport sector.

Up to €40 million will go the three main field sports organisations – the FAI, the GAA and the IRFU – if needed to ensure their “solvency and continued existence.”

Their will be a ‘Resilience Fund’ of up to €10m for National Governing Bodies of other sports whose survival is threatened, €15m to support clubs whose survival is threatened and a ‘Sports Restart and Renewal Fund’ of up to €5m.

This additional funding will be invested through four new grant schemes, to be developed by Sport Ireland and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, and administered by Sport Ireland.

IRFU chief executive Philip Browne thanked the government, saying: “Since the closedown of the country in March, Irish Rugby’s income has effectively fallen off a cliff and while we have moved quickly to significantly reduce our costs, huge financial pressure will remain our reality until we return to a time when we can welcome supporters back to full stadia across our professional game.”

FAI Interim CEO Gary Owens said: “I also want to thank the Government and all their agencies for their support for Irish football in what has been a very challenging time for everyone.

“Our funds have been tested greatly by the effects of COVID-19 so this funding from Government is most welcome. It is also a testament to the hard work of all our staff in these trying times when they have continued to work to get Irish football back onto the playing fields.”

A statement from the GAA expressed the Association’s “gratitude to the Government for the support package announced this evening.

“This funding will greatly assist our units in the weeks and months ahead as they prepare for a return to activity.”

The GAA’s initial date for the return to contact training was 20 July and Croke Park officials expected that this could be advanced to 13 July and possibly even 6 July, but contact training could now begin when the pitches reopen on 29 June.

While this is likely to give county boards more time to play their club championships, it’s not expected that the All-Ireland series will come back any further in the calendar than the previously announced start date of 17 October.

As a ‘close physical contact sport’, rugby, along with boxing, had initially been listed under Phase 5 of the government’s phased easing of restrictions, with contact not permitted until 10 August.

The IRFU said last week that is wasn’t expecting club competitions to resume until September.

The Pro14 yesterday announced its intention to restart an abbreviated season with local derbies only on 22 August. The Irish provinces plan to resume training from 22/29 June.

As all-island bodies, some of the GAA and IRFU’s clubs will only return to contact sport under Step 4 of the NI Executive’s Coronavirus Recovery Plan, the date of which has yet to be confirmed.

The FAI said that soccer training in the Republic would resume at all levels from 29 June, with friendly games allowed from 11 July and competitive matches from 18 July.

European hopefuls Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians and Derry City were allowed to resume training on 8 June and have now come through six rounds of Covid-19 testing without a positive result – the FAI confirmed on Friday night that they have suspended the testing as a result of the government’s announcement.

As of Wednesday, the League of Ireland clubs remained in talks with the Football Association of Ireland over a compensation package for an expected resumption behind closed doors in August.

Golf and tennis were the first sports to resume under strict social distancing conditions last month and horse-racing followed last week.