Boris Johnson confirmed golf courses, tennis courts and swimming pools will be closed from Thursday under lockdown restrictions after the Prime Minister resisted calls to keep sporting venues open for the next month.
The government will order indoor and outdoor leisure and sports facilities including gyms, swimming pools, golf courses and driving ranges, climbing walls and climbing centres and archery and shooting ranges to close from Thursday as part of plans to stem rising coronavirus numbers and deaths in an effort to bring the pandemic under control before Christmas.
The plans were initially announced on Saturday evening, but a backlash from the respective governing bodies within golf, tennis and swimming led to discussions on Sunday and Monday taking place regarding the continuation of their sports under Covid-19 restrictions.
However, advice from Public Health England stated that the selected sports should not be made exempt from the second pockdown period and Johnson confirmed that plans will continue as announced for venues to close.
The Prime Minister was asked whether golf courses might be exempted from the rules, given the socially-distanced nature of the sport, by Conservative MP for Bracknell, James Sunderland.
Johnson responded: “I must apologise to my honourable friend for not being able to offer the house a huge list of exemptions to the rules we’ve set out.
“Because once you unpick at one thing alas the effectiveness of the whole package is compromised. That’s why I want everyone to work together for the next four weeks to get the R rate under control so that we can open things up again in time for December.”
Pushed further on the growing calls for sporting exemption, Johnson added: “We will look at all the suggestions made and at any exceptions we can sensibly make, but it is difficult to take out one part of the Jenga block without disturbing the whole package.”
The chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee, Julian Knight, had been among those calling for golf courses and tennis courts to be allowed to stay open.
Non-elite football clubs have been cleared to compete in the first round of the FA Cup this weekend under strict testing protocols, but grassroots sport will be forced to stop during the initial month-long period. With 10 non-elite clubs involved in the opening round of the competition, there were fears that the round would need to be scrapped that would cause chaos for the Football Association’s 2020/21 calendar, which has already been shortened due to the coronavirus pandemic. But after holding talks with the DCMS, the FA confirmed the 10 clubs will be brought in to the elite protocols for the weekend’s fixtures.
“We can confirm that all Emirates FA Cup first-round ties will go ahead this weekend as planned,” a statement from the governing body read.
“The UK Government has confirmed that the 10 non-elite clubs that remain in the competition will be able to play their matches under elite protocols.
“Matches will take place between November 6 and 9 2020. All ties will be played behind closed doors, in line with COVID-19 guidelines.”
The FA confirmed the draws for the next rounds of the FA Trophy and FA Vase have also taken place, but no dates have been fixed.
“We remain in dialogue with the UK Government in relation to men’s ‘non-elite’ football in England and will release the fixture dates for both the Trophy and the Vase in due course,” a further FA update read.
Jane Nickerson, the chief executive of Swim England, said it was a “horrendous” situation and fears further facilities may never reopen.
“We’ve proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that indoor leisure and swimming pools have a very low transmission of this virus and are safe places for people to go and exercise,” she told the PA news agency.
“To just slam the door shut again now, my concern is that many pools won’t reopen and certainly I believe a lot won’t reopen now before Christmas. We’ve lost 200 swimming pools already following the first lockdown, I think an awful lot more can follow suit.
“We know that swimming is immensely valuable to the health of the nation. Our Value of Swimming report we launched last year showed that we save the NHS and social care system £357million a year on just six different conditions. And people who can’t exercise on land and can exercise in water, we’re just slamming the door on them.”
England Boxing chief executive Gethin Jenkins has warned of the “dire” consequences for clubs facing the prospect of another lockdown.
While professional boxing and the GB Boxing programme are set to continue under current regulations, the amateur side of the sport is set to be shut down.
Jenkins told the PA news agency: “If proper funding can’t be obtained, then the implications for our clubs is dire.
“A majority of our clubs operate in some of the most marginalised areas of the country and have been hardest hit.”
Former DCMS committee chair Damian Collins is among a group of MPs who have called on the Government to allow under-18s to continue participating in outdoor grassroots sport, including team sports such as football, when the new measures take effect.
In a letter to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, the MPs wrote: “Young people will currently be allowed to continue with sport at school, and we believe that the risks to the spread of coronavirus from outdoor grassroots youth sport would be minimal.
“There would however be clear and lasting benefits for these young people if the Government could support this.”
A petition has been set up calling for grassroots football to be allowed to continue during the new lockdown period.
Additional reporting by PA