When will grass-roots football return? Latest on when we could play sport again
With new lockdown rules and professional sport having returned to action, many recreational players across the country will be wondering when their next chance of a match or even some form of training will be.
Here Jeremy Wilson runs through the current restrictions and plans of a variety of sports in the UK.
The Football Association is in talks with the Government about protocols for how grass-roots and recreational football could return later this year.
The most recent easing of lockdown restrictions allows people who play contact or team sports like football to practice in groups of up to six but ongoing two metre social distancing rules mean no matches or physical contact.
Numerous grass-roots fixtures were already lost before March due to the wet winter but the FA hope that matches will resume this year and have taken encouragement from how other sectors of society have introduced modifications to gradually return. Smaller sided forms of football could be permitted to return first and the FA have told non-league clubs to prepare for a September or October return, subject to government guidance. They also hope to increase the training numbers over the summer.
Leagues have received no definite guidance but a later start to the season will mean fewer fixtures, with league matches to take priority over cup competitions.
The Rugby Football Union has published its plan for the resumption of rugby in England, including three possible dates for the community game’s return.
It consisted of six stages: from Stage A relating to individual training with one other person, moving through to Stage F when there can be a return to competitive matches against other teams. Similar to football, the RFU has advised that it is currently at Stage B, meaning that exercise within a group of up to six people is allowed, as long as social-distancing guidelines are maintained.
Under the current roadmap, the community game would not be able to return to contact training until Stage E at the very earliest. Three dates for the potential resumption of community rugby in England were mooted: the usual start of the season in September; late October to early November; or January 2021, which has been described as the “pessimistic” option. Rugby have also tried to be creative in exploring how the game could be modified to bring players back to more meaningful practice or even competition as soon as possible. This has included smaller sized games and non-contact tag rugby.
Groundspeople are being encouraged to get their facilities ready for action and there was considerable surprise when Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that cricket could not return because the ball is “a natural vector of the disease”.
The England & Wales Cricket Board has published guidance for recreational cricket and informal activity which currently allows small groups of up to six to play, provided that they remain socially distanced. They advise outdoor nets are used on an ‘every other’ basis, so that there is at least one left free between operating nets.
Players are advised to use their own equipment and, if there is any sharing, to thoroughly wash their hands. They have been strictly told that no saliva or sweat should be applied to the ball. Clubs have also been advised to mark out socially distanced queuing systems in nets. The ECB will now deliver more detailed plans about how the sport can return with six or eight a side matches. Junior cricket is likely to return first and they are confident they can reverse government policy by the middle of July.
Swimming and water sports
All outdoor water sports were again permitted when the first phase of lockdown restrictions were eased in May and this included open water swimming, provided that social distancing was observed.
Some outdoor lidos have also now reopened. Indoor swimming pools remain shut and there has been a huge backlash over the government’s decision not to include them in the reopening of facilities on July 4. Proposals have been drawn up by leisure centres for their potential reopening and an Open Our Pools campaign has been launched. The proposals include limits on numbers so that there is no more than one person in a pool per three square metres, the option to arrive in swimwear, double-width lanes and family sessions so that groups from one household can have an area of the pool to themselves.
Another sport who believe that they are ready to resume and were deeply disappointed with the government’s decision to reopen pubs and restaurants before indoor sports facilities. British Gymnastics has 1,500 members clubs and more than 400,000 children desperate to return. They are adamant that they can resume safely, with two metre social distancing, and will now try to convince the government that they should open in the middle of July. “If the Government really believe in the benefit of sport and physical activity on mental and physical health, they need to move to reopen indoor facilities now,” they said a statement.
Outdoor courts reopened last month and players can again practise in groups of up to six, subject to social distancing but they were also upset at the government’s decision not to reopen sports halls. They had expected indoor facilities to be reopened and, having said that community sport was being left behind, warned that many leisure centres will not survive financially.
“Many women who rely on leisure facilities to stay active through netball activity in safe and enclosed environments will suffer because of this decision,” said chief executive Fran Connolly. Netball has been exploring versions of their sport that would involve reduced numbers before potentially returning to the full seven-a-side game later this year.
Gyms and leisure centres had drawn up detailed plans for their potential reopening in July and are planning to open “showroom sites” in an attempt to reassure Government, health agencies and their users that they would be safe and are furious that they must wait while pubs and restaurants can reopen. They are now trying to persuade the government to reopen their facilities by the middle of July.
Some other countries have already reopened gyms, including Hong Kong, which has perspex screens between treadmills, and Switzerland, which has adapted facilities and limited numbers.
According to Sport England, going to the gym has been the “most missed” physical activity during lockdown and the ukactive plan for gyms and leisure centres includes: no towels to be brought onto the gym floor; at least two metres between all available gym equipment and studio space; only one parent per child in a swimming pool; social distancing throughout, including in changing rooms; all touch points, such as weights or other equipment, to be cleaned down after use; no more than one gym user for every three square metres of space.
Dance and fitness
Millions of people take part in various classes on a regular basis and, although the industry has adapted by moving many activities online, it has been an extremely challenging time for largely self-employed instructors. One particular issue has been that they are limited in their use of copyrighted music online.
There is still a hope that gyms will reopen in the middle of July and, while numbers would be limited inside studios and social distancing would have to take place, that classes could also then resume. If possible, markings would be drawn on studio floors to provide designated areas for users. Additional time would also be built in so that studios could be thoroughly cleaned between activities and that there would be a 10-minute window between classes to avoid waiting around in groups.
Athletics tracks were reopened earlier in June at the discretion of the local operators and some limited club activity has resumed.
England Athletics has also produced guidance for individual and paired training or coaching following the latest easing of lockdown measures, and have published a potential framework to resume more traditional club and group activity, with a view to again staging some socially distanced competition. The modelling starts with club activity in July before moving towards regional, national and international competition. Many clubs have restarted training in small groups.
Cycling is one of the few activities that has been permitted throughout lockdown and has experienced a boom in participation. Although group rides of up to six are theoretically permitted provided social distancing is observed, British Cycling have recognised the practical difficulty by advising only small groups.
Clubs, however, could now resume some group activity in July as part of a plan for the phased reintroduction of local and national racing over the next four months. They would potentially begin with ‘club and group activity’, such as club rides, coaching and possibly individual time-trialling after July 4.
The suspension of international and national level cycling races has been extended until September but, owing to their shorter travel distances, regional races and mass sportive events could return in August. The various timescales are being reviewed on a fortnightly basis and final decisions will follow further talks with Government.
Hockey have drawn up a five-step plan to return after groups of six were again permitted to train outdoors, provided that social distancing was respected. According to their roadmap, hockey’s next step would next involve small group training and some tackling and marking. This would be followed by local match play. Hockey is currently at Step Two of its roadmap and specific guidance includes no sharing of equipment and only touching balls with your stick during training.
Was among the first sports to return last month. This was initially with a maximum of one other person from outside your household but groups of up to four can now play together, provided that they remain two metres apart. Golf had produced plans to include removing the bunker rakes and putting lining in the holes so that the ball can be easily retrieved. They also recommend that flags are not touched. They have implemented a strict booking system and tee-time schedule to avoid the congregation of groups.
Although leisure centres and squad facilities could theoretically still reopen next month as part of the return of indoor sports, squash remains one of the most difficult racket sports to play with social distancing. Players could come back to practicing alone on a court but, unlike badminton, tennis and table-tennis, the lack of a net and distinct playing areas, will make it difficult for squash to return while Government social distancing guidance remains in place.
England Squash are producing a toolkit for their resumption and have already told clubs to consider reviewing their booking systems, so that they could trace, contact and record who has been in the club and to potentially build in time for extra cleaning between use. The guidance also says that club members “will need to adopt new habits such as taking spare towels and arriving to play ready in their kit…[and] bringing their own water”.
Badminton have produced guidelines for how their sport could return next month, which would involve socially-distanced singles, one-to-one coaching and using only your own racket. They are furious that an estimated four million badminton players still do not have a definite return date and are still hoping to return in the middle of July. Additional advice is being sought from Public Health England on how shuttles might be shared, but it has been suggested that you could share a box to no more than eight players and then rotate singles games while not moving the shuttles outside each group. Although informal outdoor badminton would already meet guidance provided that social distancing is respected, the sport remains largely dependent on whether leisure centres and gyms reopen.
Outdoor basketball courts were reopened last month and, having initially only been allowed to play with one other person from outside your household, players can now again practice in groups of up to six provided that social distancing is maintained and there is no contact. It is recommended that a single ball is shared only within a household and that everyone brings their own disinfected ball.
Indoor courts remain closed to non-elite players but the entire indoor sports sector is making representations to government about what could be opened in July and there is a hope that sports halls with basketball courts could then reopen.
A five-step roadmap for basketball’s return was published last week, but Basketball England specifically noted that the physical contact in the sport meant that social distancing rules would change the way they play. They also noted concerns over how black, asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups had been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19 and that a large proportion of the basketball family (58%) come from these communities. The roadmap lists autumn this year as a potential date for the return of team-based training, as well as competitions with limited numbers of fans.
Tennis was one of the first sports to reopen back in May but players in England are now again able to resume doubles with people from outside of their own household and share tennis balls.
The Lawn Tennis Association do say that two metre social distancing rules must still be applied “at all times”, although the new guidance does add the caveat “as far as possible”.
Although players do not now need to clearly mark their own tennis balls, they have been told that “extra care must be taken to ensure you do not touch your face during play, and you should clean your hands before play and immediately after finishing”.
In Scotland, the Government has continued to insist upon individually marked tennis balls and playing doubles only with people from within your household.
Group coaching for up to six people is also now permitted in England and, although it is not recommended to share equipment, the guidance says rackets can be shared if they are cleaned thoroughly before and after use.
LTA Youth Box Leagues as well as internal club singles and doubles leagues and ladders in England can also now resume and there is a hope to again behind country and district leagues before the end of July.
Up to six volleyballers from different households can meet to take part in outdoor exercises, drills and coaching that abide by social distancing. England Volleyball is also working on a roadmap for its return but chief executive Sue Storey last week warned members that the “the road ahead is a long one.”
England Volleyball have interpreted the new rules to conclude that standard small-sided volleyball matches, of six or less people in total, still cannot take place while following social distancing rules. The playing of any games is also not permitted at this time. England Volleyball’s advice is that only recreational play between two players can take place and that, in this case, play by the net – such as blocking – should be avoided to enable both players to remain two metres apart.
Using a volleyball for training for up to six people is within the guidance, provided that everyone follows strict hand hygiene by washing their hands and their volleyball equipment before and after the session. Equipment sharing should be kept to a minimum.
The sport is now again permitted outdoors, subject to social distancing and, like badminton, it is possible to foresee its indoor return when gyms and leisure centres reopen. This would be likely to begin with singles only and no doubles. The sharing of equipment, including balls would also have to be minimised.
Table-tennis England has published a potential five-stage return to play roadmap. This has begun with outdoor table-tennis, and some potential one-to-one coaching, before moving to some indoor club activity with restrictions related to social distancing. It is then anticipated that localised competition would resume before regional or national events.
Combat sports and martial arts
Although sparring and contact is now allowed at an elite level in combat sports, subject to various Government guidelines, amateur participants are currently still far more limited. People can now congregate again outdoors in groups of six, provided that they remain socially distanced, meaning that some form of fitness training and shadow boxing could be done. Gyms could also still potentially reopen in July, although this would initially involve social distancing and wiping down any shared equipment after each use.
Outdoors rinks already reopened in May and bowlers can again play, subject to social distancing. Indoor sports are currently drawing up proposals to potentially return next month and, with bowls quite easily played with social distancing and no sharing of equipment, there is a hope that indoor rinks will also reopen this summer. It is advised that people should thoroughly wash their hands before and after touching any shared equipment, such as mats and jacks, and that players should only touch their own bowls.
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