Ulster Rugby spoke to Ballymoney Rugby Club this week to see how they’re preparing for a return to rugby with the IRFU’s COVID-19 health and safety measures.
Ian Frizzell, who has been involved with Ballymoney RFC for almost 50 years, is their newly-appointed COVID-19 Safety Officer.
“Over the last few years, I’ve been sponsoring the club through my business, which is a health and safety consultancy, and so I have expertise in this area. Ballymoney’s President, John Waide approached me about this role to help the club return to rugby and I had no hesitation in accepting.
My role is to oversee all the safety measures being put in place to effect a safe return to rugby at all levels and in all aspects of club activity.
The club and Ian have been incredibly busy in preparing both the grounds and members for a safe return as they progress through the IRFU roadmap.
“The first step that was required by the IRFU and Ulster Rugby was the documentation; all clubs have to submit a club safety plan. There was some work involved in compiling this safety plan, as well as carrying out the risk assessment.”
Many of the changes implemented at Ballymoney have been around the club facilities, which have been designed to create as safe an environment as possible for members.
“We have put up an information sign about COVID-19 at the entrance to the club and we have adopted the ‘Keep Your Clubmates Safe’ visual from the IRFU and integrated it with our club colours. There is signage in place to direct people to the back of the clubhouse for pitch access and outdoor bar access. There’s a registration point for players training and a hand sanitizing station.
“At the moment, the clubhouse bar is open under Government restrictions, with outdoor seating only with table service. Signage is up to have a one-way and one in, one out system for the ladies’ and gents’ toilets. We now have installed external hand wash stations as there is limited access to the toilet areas and no access to changing and shower facilities, so we’re providing as much as we can to ensure players can have easy access to washing their hands.”
As part of the IRFU ‘Return to Rugby’ procedures, clubs are required to appoint Compliance Officers in addition to the COVID-19 Safety Officer. Ian and the club have recruited around 15 members from all levels at Ballymoney to become Compliance Officers.
“Most of our newly-appointed Compliance Officers would have coaching roles within the different teams at Ballymoney. The Clubhouse Manager and his assistant are Compliance Officers at the club, as are a few parents. They will be taking what is in our safety plan and putting it into action. They will make sure everyone is compliant with the protocols in place and that all the appropriate forms are completed, from player registration forms through to cleaning checklists.
“I’ve just completed two evening sessions to deliver training for the Compliance Officers. From that, we have issued the IRFU’s guidance for players, coaches and parents / guardians, which we have tailored to Ballymoney’s circumstances.
“The new RugbyConnect platform will make it a lot easier to get player registration up and running. It will save time and queues at registration points. It will also cut down on the work for our Compliance Officers who are also coaches, so it will allow them to focus on their main job.”
Players at Ballymoney have been issued guidance via their respective team WhatsApp groups, to ensure that they’re aware of their responsibilities and are familiar with the measures put in place.
“Advice for players starts from when they leave home. They should either travel alone or with household groups. They will need to arrive already in training gear as there are no changing facilities. Before training, they will be required to fill in a self-declaration form to ensure the safety of themselves and others. They will be greeted by the registration officer and guided to their respective areas on the pitch for training pods. They should be able to find their way around and use the hand sanitising stations before, during and after training.”
Plans to return to rugby are not without their challenges for Ian and Ballymoney RFC.
“Our biggest issue will be getting our mini rugby groups back training. We normally attract around 200 children to the club; with the restrictions in numbers and the limited space we have, it will be a challenge for us to try and accommodate everyone. We don’t want to disappoint any groups by saying we have to limit the numbers – we want it to be open to everyone.
“As the restrictions are lifted by both the Government and the IRFU, we can go through to the next stages and plan for those accordingly. We are also looking at what other clubs are doing and learning from them.
“The rugby community has been excellent in sharing their experiences and overcoming the different challenges they’ve encountered along the way. It has been a great help and will continue to do so.”
When asked about what the club is looking forward to the most about a return to rugby, Ian didn’t hesitate to answer; it’s about getting out on the pitch again.
“We’ve been really driven to get people back onto the pitch and playing rugby in some shape or form, and that has been the feedback from the various teams at Ballymoney. We were able to open the outside bar a couple of weeks ago and you could see from the player representation there that they were delighted to be back together again.”