Elite matches to continue but all grassroots sport suspended in England


Professional sport has been given the all-clear to continue after strict new lockdown rules were announced on Monday evening, but there are warnings of a further decline in activity levels for everyone else after golf courses, tennis courts and outdoor gyms were told they must close for at least seven weeks.

Organised team sport for under-18s is also now on hold under the new rules announced by the prime minister Boris Johnson. And with most indoor gyms and pools already closed under tier 4 restrictions imposed on most of England in December, most people’s activity will be restricted to cycling, running or walking outdoors – which is allowed with one other person – or working out at home until 22 February. Disabled sport and elite youth competitions will get exemptions, however, and golf is still permitted in Scotland.

While conceding that the measures were necessary to prevent the spread of the new variants of the coronavirus, ukactive, which represents more than 4,000 gyms and leisure centres, also warned they would inevitably “sound the alarm” for jobs and businesses in the sector and warned of the risks to people’s physical and mental health.

The ukactive chief executive, Huw Edwards, said: “The further restrictions show the severity of this new chapter in the fight against Covid-19 and it is crucial they are respected. But we also know that despite positive encouragement from the government, physical activity levels fell sharply and significantly during previous lockdowns. The UK governments must protect this sector before it becomes too late.”

Operators of all sizes across the UK are sounding the alarm that their businesses are unsustainable and facing substantial job losses if they are forced to close again without a comprehensive package of tailored financial and regulatory support.”

Elite sport was given the green light to continue despite more than 50 matches in the Premier League, English Football League and National League being postponed since Christmas, with the government satisfied with the safety precautions in place for training and competition.

There are also no plans for the Premier League or Football League to impose a “circuit break”, although they are bracing for more postponements in the coming days with all 92 clubs in the first four English divisions having Covid tests this week. Until now only the Premier League players have been regularly tested, with lower league clubs relying on testing after symptoms emerge and contact tracing.

The Women’s Super League will continue, as will the second tier of women’s football, the Championship, but all other female leagues in England will be suspended, including the Women’s FA Cup, as it does not have elite status.

Football’s policy of keeping calm and carrying on was called into question by the Rochdale chief executive, David Bottomley, who said it was “inevitable” that the Football League would have to temporarily suspend fixtures because of rising coronavirus cases.

He said: “Hospitals across the UK are being told they are to face a massive surge in Covid cases, so who are we in football to be trying to add to that situation?”

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