All competitive grass-roots team sports can begin returning alongside club cricket from Saturday, the Government has announced under a new lockdown-easing plan which will also allow for small groups of spectators.
The most significant loosening of sporting rules since Covid-19 by the Government means the likes of the Football Association and Rugby Football Union can set out their timetables for allowing the return of amateur-level competition. Some five-a-side football may be back within the next week, pending Government approval.
Club cricket remains the first team sport to fully return on Saturday following a campaign spearheaded by Telegraph Sport. The England and Wales Cricket Board gave the sport an official green light to return on Thursday, and the Government signaled that other sports will now follow.
Supporters will also be allowed to attend community fixtures "in small numbers provided they are in groups of two households only, or no larger than six people from different households, and adhere to social distancing measures," the Government announced.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, which agreed the new guidance with Public Health England, the Department for Health, and Sport England, said individual sports will now submit "an action plan and related guidance, demonstrating its mitigations, how it plans to operate, and any adaptations required, before they can be approved to restart".
Measures in the new guidance are said to ensure clubs support track-and-trace efforts by collecting information on participants at both training and matches. All players, officials, volunteers and spectators must undergo a self-assessment for any Covid-19 symptoms, and participants and spectators must minimise the use of public transport and car-sharing with anyone outside their household.
Other instructions include:
- Clubs limiting time spent congregating at a venue before a match begins, and "where possible" arrive changed and ready to warm up.
- All sports must also adhere to social distancing throughout warm-ups and breaks in play, and avoid equipment sharing where possible. Like guidance in elite football, players should also avoid unnecessary close contact such as handshakes or huddles.
- Sports where a single ball needs to be touched by multiple players, such as basketball, cricket and football, need to include in their action plans how they will reduce the risk of this transmitting the virus – for example by cleaning when it goes out of play.
- Club toilets will need to be opened for pre-match, during the match and for 30 minutes afterwards, but they must be cleaned regularly in line with public health guidance.
- Clubhouses and bars can be opened in line with Government guidance on hospitality, with groups limited to six people.
Sport England chief executive Tim Hollingsworth the announcement was "an important step forward", while Nigel Huddleston, the sports minister, added: “This is fantastic news for the millions of people who miss playing sport with their friends and team-mates.”
Rules on exercise and sport have been gradually relaxed since May 14, when Britons were initially allowed greater access to local, outdoor physical activity.
The Football Association has been in talks with the Government for weeks about protocols for how grass-roots and recreational football could return.
The previous easing of lockdown restrictions allowed 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.
The Rugby Football Union has also 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.