What is the ‘roadmap’?
Boris Johnson’s plan for lifting lockdown restrictions will be announced on Monday. The wider reopening of schools will be confirmed for March 8 and other sections of society will be divided into a series of four ‘steps’, likely between March and July, when every adult should have been offered at least one vaccination. Elite sport has been granted dispensation to continue during this current lockdown, but there has been a clamour for recreational sport to be prioritised so that people can again derive the vast physical and mental health benefits.
Many sports and clubs are also facing huge financial uncertainty and are desperate to get back up and running. There was a relatively wide resumption of sport between July and December last year and with Spring approaching and the vaccination programme being rolled out, the grass-roots sports sector is hoping to start planning again with some certainty.
Is children’s sport being prioritised?
Yes. As part of the school reopening from March 8, outdoors after-school sports and activities will also restart alongside regular PE lessons.
Organised community children’s sport will then resume three weeks later with a range of other outdoor activities. It follows The Telegraph’s Keep Kids Active campaign and lobbying from governing bodies for outdoor community children’s sport to return at the same time as the wider reopening of schools.
The Government was wary of introducing further mixing of children at the exact same time as the big school reopening and so decided to wait until the end of March before allowing children’s community sport. However, there will be a major national push next month to promote physical activity and sport after levels of activity levels fell significantly during previous lockdowns. Resuming sport before Easter is also hugely significant for the provision of holiday sports clubs and activities – and there will be an accompanying push to make school sport facilities available to the wider community.
Which sports will return first?
March 29 will also mark the reopening of a wide range of outdoor adult sports, including grass-roots football and golf as well as facilities including tennis and basketball courts. Sports that can be practiced in a socially distanced way had been making strong representations to the Government throughout this third national lockdown. Angling succeeded in being exempted completely from the current lockdown but tennis, golf, archery and a range of outdoor water sports had been pushing to return at the earliest opportunity and are all confident that they can return safely. Protocols are already in place following the previous lockdown and, with evidence of significantly reduced Covid-19 transmission outdoors, there is a strong feeling that the health and wellbeing benefits of reopening outdoor sport will outweigh the risks.
What about sports which are mostly played indoors?
The future remains more uncertain for many of those sports which are predominantly played indoors. Much will depend on Covid-19 transmission trends after schools and outdoor sports reopen in March. The success of the vaccination programme will also be critical, as well as plans to provide ‘surge’ testing of communities where there are Covid-19 variants.
Some indoor sport did return last year after leisure centres reopened with social distancing measures, but there is a fear that many sports clubs and facility operators will be lost permanently without additional financial help. Boxing, for example, has warned that a third of clubs face extinction and, although there has been a £100m sports recovery fund, urgent submissions are being made to Government.
When will gyms, swimming pools and leisure centres reopen?
Facilities were largely kept open last year between July and December, even in Tier 4 areas, and the sector is confident that it has proved that it can operate in a Covid-secure way. The prevalence of Covid-19 in gyms and leisure centres averaged at 1.7 cases per 100,000 people during the reopening last year and the sector has argued that it should be treated as an “essential service” in helping to restore physical and mental health following the pandemic. They are pushing to reopen in April and have presented their range of protocols around social distancing, ventilation and hygiene to Government.
Indoor swimming pools are likely to reopen to the public at the same time as gyms, but Swim England wants special dispensation for pools to provide statutory swimming lessons to schools and also essential health and wellbeing services. These often provide pain management and the opportunity for people who cannot get active on land to exercise.