Top-level sport in England could restart behind closed doors from June 1 but spectators may not be able to attend venues until a vaccine is found.
The Government’s road map for exiting the lockdown imposed to limit the spread of coronavirus was published on Monday afternoon, setting out the conditions under which various activities can be safely carried out.
Step two of the road map, which cannot begin any earlier than June 1, includes “permitting cultural and sporting events to take place behind closed-doors for broadcast, while avoiding the risk of large-scale social contact”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, taking questions after a statement at the House of Commons, later added that the restoration of some sport “could provide a much-needed boost to national morale”.
This will only be possible though if sufficient progress is made in limiting the spread of the virus between now and then, but the document entitled ‘Our Plan to Rebuild: The UK Government’s Covid-19 Recovery Strategy’ says that “organisations should plan accordingly”.
It is less clear when supporters will be able to return to venues. The document talks about venues such as cinemas and hairdressers reopening in step three – no earlier than July 4 – but states: “Some venues which are, by design, crowded and where it may prove difficult to enact distancing may still not be able to reopen safely at this point, or may be able to open safely only in part.
“Nevertheless the Government will wish to open as many businesses and public places as the data and information at the time allows.
“In order to facilitate the fastest possible reopening of these types of higher-risk businesses and public places, the Government will carefully phase and pilot reopenings to test their ability to adopt the new COVID-19 Secure guidelines.
“The Government will also monitor carefully the effects of reopening other similar establishments elsewhere in the world, as this happens.
“The Government will establish a series of task forces to work closely with stakeholders in these sectors to develop ways in which they can make these businesses and public places COVID-19 Secure.”
Page 21 of the document warns that opening of venues such as sports stadia “may only be fully possible significantly later depending on the reduction in numbers of infections”.
Events involving international travel – such as football’s Champions League and Europa League, could be affected by the Government’s planned introduction of an enforced 14-day quarantine period for arrivals to the UK, except for those from countries “on a short list of exemptions”.
The Premier League’s clubs are meeting on Monday to continue their discussions around Project Restart. They had been planning for a return to action no earlier than the week beginning June 8.
The start of the cricket season has already been pushed back for a second time, to July 1 at the earliest, but plans around creating ‘bio-secure’ venues to hosts matches, and even entire series, for the England men’s team are under way.
A statement from the governing body following the political developments said: “The ECB will monitor government guidance and continue its planning accordingly.
“If and when appropriate, we will announce our return to training protocols in due course, which will incorporate the implementation of core training principles for our elite players.”
The issue of a quarantine period for overseas arrivals is not a concern for the West Indies, the first touring team due to play on these shores. The PA news agency understands such a policy had already been factored in by Cricket West Indies and talks between the respective boards will continue later this week.
The British Horseracing Authority had hoped under its “best case scenario” planning to be back in action before the end of May, with two high-profile cards scheduled at the end of the month before the Guineas meeting at the beginning of June.
In terms of sports participation, one-on-one sport with someone from outside your household will be permitted from Wednesday. Team sports are not permitted, except with members of your own household.
In rugby league, Wales chief executive Gareth Kear has pitched ‘The NHS Cup’ – a double header against England – should the planned autumn internationals not take place.
Wales are due to meet Jamaica, Ireland and Spain, with England scheduled for a three-Test series against Australia, with all fixtures under a question mark.
Facing the prospect of cancellation, Kear suggested: “Let (England and Wales) play for an NHS Cup and invite key workers in for free. This way, we can recognise the sadness of friends and loved ones lost, respect the sacrifice of so many, and then celebrate a new beginning. It would be a great occasion anywhere in England or Wales.”