The Premier League and other elite sport can continue behind closed doors during a new four-week national lockdown in England.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced new restrictions for the country that will start on Thursday and run until 2 December to combat coronavirus and avoid the NHS being overwhelmed.
Culture secretary Oliver Dowden tweeted that “travel to a place of work will be permitted” for “elite sport played behind closed doors”.
During a news conference to announce the measures, Johnson gave a thumbs up and said “Yes to the Premier League” when asked if top-flight football will continue.
The Premier League was halted in March before the first national lockdown and has been played without fans since it restarted in June. Players are tested weekly for the virus.
The English Football League says it has been told by the government that its competitions can continue in England and Wales.
“We acknowledge the government’s national efforts in tackling this outbreak and would hope that during this next phase of the crisis, our national sport, negatively affected by Covid-19 like many other industries, can continue to provide some form of welcome distraction and give people in our communities up and down the country a sense of normality in very challenging times,” the EFL said in a statement.
Confusion over grassroot sports and FA Cup ties
It is not clear how grassroots and amateur sport will be affected, but guidance is being drawn up.
However sources have indicated to BBC Sport that is unlikely that grassroots team sport will be permitted to continue.
Nine of the 40 FA Cup first round ties due to be played over 6-9 November involve teams from “non-elite” leagues.
The Football Association says it is “awaiting further information before we can confirm how this may affect non-elite football across England”.
Leisure centre, gyms and golf courses to close
Under the new restrictions:
- People are being told to stay at home unless they have a specific reason to leave, such as work which cannot be done from home and education.
- People are allowed to exercise outdoors alone, with their household or with one other person.
The government has confirmed leisure centres and gyms will close, as will other indoor and outdoor leisure facilities including:
- sports facilities including swimming pools,
- golf courses and driving ranges,
- bowling alleys,
- dance studios,
- stables and riding centres,
- climbing walls and climbing centres,
- archery and shooting ranges.
The Lawn Tennis Association says that, while indoor tennis will be halted, it will “make a case” to the government for outdoor tennis between two individuals from different households to be allowed in line with restrictions on exercise, adding that tennis is a “socially distanced sport with the net acting as a natural barrier”.
The Sport and Recreation Alliance, which represents UK national sports organisations including the Football Association and Rugby Football Union along with community sport, has called for “urgent support” from the government.
Chief executive Lisa Wainwright said: “These restrictions will critically affect the 150,000 plus local sports clubs in every community across England and will place them in a perilous scenario not knowing if they will ever open their doors again” adding it could be the “final nail in the coffin for grassroots clubs which have struggled to survive the initial lockdown”.
Swim England chief executive Jane Nickerson said her organisation thought it was “extremely disappointing and frustrating to see indoor leisure being forced to close again,” adding that pools were a “safe and a lifeline for many people” and should be “considered an essential service”.
“A second period of closure will push many facilities over the edge and there is the dangerous prospect of losing so many facilities for good,” she said.
Nickerson urged the government to “dig deep and find the necessary funding to ensure we don’t see swimming pools and other leisure facilities permanently close”.
UK Active, a non-for-profit body representing gyms and leisure centres said it was “deeply concerned” by the new measures.
In a statement, it said: “We urge the Prime Minister to ensure comprehensive financial support for the health and fitness sector is available to help it survive this period, minimising the now grave threat to further business failure and significant job losses.”
Klopp welcomes Premier League exemption
Speaking after his side’s 2-1 win over West Ham, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp said: “It is obviously what we wanted (football to continue) and I think we proved we can keep the bubble safe.
“Everyone had cases, that is the time we are in, but we could isolate these cases pretty quickly to prevent spread.
“I think it never happened at a training ground but it has happened when travelling, with international teams, normal life. I think we proved we can do it.
“And in a lockdown it is really important for the people that they can do things they like to do, and watching football is obviously something they like to do. I am happy we can continue.”
BBC Sports editor Dan Roan
This is a hammer-blow to the sports sector.
The major professional governing bodies will be relieved that, unlike in the spring during the first national lockdown, action can at least continue behind closed doors, but hopes of a quick return of spectators eight months after turnstiles closed have suffered a major setback.
The closure of gyms, pools and indoor sports facilities just a few months after they introduced strict hygiene and safety protocols enabling them to re-open, despite data showing comparatively low risk of transmission, will reinforce demands for a £1.5bn recovery fund for the sports sector, similar to the bail-out given to the culture and arts industry earlier this year.
The fear is that these latest restrictions could lead to thousands of job losses, cause many facilities to close, and adversely affect physical and mental health, just when it is needed most to help the country get through this crisis.