Sports stars in Northern Ireland have called for a “re-opening” of children’s sports, after a top expert confirmed that he was “not aware” of any cases of Covid-19 being transmitted between children playing football outdoors.

More than 50 top players from GAA, soccer, rugby and more, signed a letter urging the Northern Ireland Executive to give “immediate consideration” to opening outdoor sport again for children who they said were “mentally struggling.”

The letter claimed that sport for young people had continued in other countries “without adverse effects”.

The British government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, previously said he was “not aware” of any cases of Covid-19 transmission between children playing football outdoors.  Asked by Greg Clark MP whether he knew of any instance of Covid-19 infection between children playing grassroots football, Vallance said: “Not that I’m aware of. There may be evidence, but I haven’t seen it.”

Now, leading sports stars say kids need to get back to sports. Former Armagh GAA player Aidan O’Rourke said the impact of the continued lockdown “on physical and mental health is pretty drastic”.

Signatories to the letter include soccer stars Stuart Dallas and Gary Hamilton, Tyrone GAA star Peter Canavan, and former Ireland rugby international Stephen Ferris.

Speaking to BBC Northern Ireland, Aidan O’Rourke, who manages a GAA Acadamy, said the authorities needed to take steps quickly. He said the number of parents who had contacted the group was “phenomenal”.

“We’re asking them to consider a bit of nuance around their approach to this – not to throw a blanket over our children in the same way as adult sport potentially is at the moment. We think there are steps that they can take pretty quickly,” he said.

“We didn’t realise the numbers of people that were struggling with this issue. Behavioural issues at home, personalities disappearing, young people sitting in front of screens all day, all evening.”

Stuart Hamilton told the BBC that the continuing shutdown of children and youth sport had left his own two children “mentally struggling”.

“They are asking me every single week ‘Daddy when are we going back playing football and see our friends?’,” the former Northern Ireland international said.

“My kids very rarely played computer games but all of a sudden, there’s nothing else to do and they are sitting playing computers all day long.

The sports leaders said that training could be done in a “safe environment” and that there was a cross community aspect to sports. “There are no confirmed transmissions of Covid-19 through participation in outdoor sport,” the letter said.

The call comes as one British doctor warned of a “timebomb” in mental health issues for children due to the continued lockdown.