Exercising on the gallops racehorse Fair Sheriff is ridden by jockey Nathan Moscrop at Howe Hill Stables, near Darlington, England, Thursday May 28, 2020. (Phto: AP)
Sports events will be allowed to resume in England from Monday without any spectators, providing they comply with the government’s coronavirus protocols.
The guidance for elite sports bodies was published by the government on Saturday as COVID-19 lockdown restrictions that were imposed in March are eased further.
“The wait is over,” Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said. “Live British sport will shortly be back on in safe and carefully controlled environments.”
It paves the way for the planned June 17 return of the Premier League, the world’s richest soccer competition.
“There is still much work to be done to ensure the safety of everyone involved,” Premier League chief executive Richard Masters said.
The government announcement allows English cricket authorities to plan for international series against West Indies and Pakistan. Formula One is also exploring two races at Silverstone from July, with the season yet to start.
The first competitions to return on Monday are set to be horse racing, snooker and greyhound racing which lined up events in anticipation of the end of an 11-week shutdown of sports.
British horse racing employs tens of thousands of people and the absence of meets since March 17 has left many facing “considerable hardship,” according to the Jockey Club.
“The lockdown has been an incredibly hard period for our industry and it will be a long road back to recovery,” Jockey Club chief executive Delia Bushell said. “While we are not a human-contact sport, extensive plans are nevertheless in place to create the safest possible environment for participants.”
Athletes and other staff will be required to travel to venues individually and by private transport where possible. Screening for coronavirus symptoms is required before entering.
Where social distancing cannot be maintained — staying 2 meters (6 feet) apart — activities need to be risk assessed and mitigated. Media have been told to “minimize crossover” with others at the venue, including players. There is also a request that “during any disputes between players and referees, or scoring celebrations” they must stay apart.
“This guidance provides the safe framework for sports to resume competitions behind closed doors,” Dowden said. “It is now up to individual sports to confirm they can meet these protocols and decide when it’s right for them to restart.
“This is a significant moment for British sport. By working with clinicians every step of the way, we are creating the safest possible environments for everyone involved.”
The first major event after the resumption of sports is set to be the 2,000 Guineas horse race next Saturday at Newmarket, with jockeys wearing face masks.
But the government is not yet prepared to allow non-elite sports to resume, denying regular citizens the chance to play cricket and football in a park.
“We are working hard to get grassroots sport back up and running safely too, so that people can reunite with their own football, rugby or cricket teammates and get back on their pitches, fields or athletic tracks,” Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said. “But we will only do this when it is safe and appropriate to do so, based upon scientific advice.”
The government, however, will from Monday allow groups of six people from different households to exercise outside as long as they remain 2 meters apart. Currently only two people from different households can meet up.
Though the COVID-19 deaths per day have fallen in Britain since the peak in April, another 215 were still reported on Saturday by the government, bringing the known death toll in all settings including hospitals and care homes to 38,376.
Deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said it was still a “very dangerous moment” but added the return of sports events without spectators “is not going to have any meaningful impact” on the infection rate.