As rumours swirl that the UK is preparing itself for life after lockdown, many people find themselves wondering what that will mean for their favourite sports.
As of yet, the lockdown has been indiscriminatory. Regardless of whether your favourite sport involves contact or is played with no contact; is high intensity or low intensity; or is played as a team or individually, that sport will have been banned.
However, after seven weeks, people are now beginning to wonder if and when they can return to playing or watching their sport of choice. Of course, the debate tends to focus on professional sports but what does it mean for those who play sports recreationally?
For weeks now, golf courses have been empty – used by no one other than those who have decided they fancy somewhere more scenic for their daily walk. Yet surely we can all agree that if people were allowed to play golf, they would be able to do so while observing and maintaining social distancing measures?
For good reason, parks and public spaces remain open and are being utilised by vast swathes of people on a daily basis. Anyone who has visited knows that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to observe social distancing measures when you visit those public spaces. Why then is it acceptable for those spaces to be utilised in the knowledge that social distancing will prove difficult, while banning sports activities involving no physical contact and where social distancing could be observed?
Golf is the easiest sport to demonstrate why the blanket ban is ill thought out. Staggered tee times, clubhouse closures and using gloves to touch flags are simple enough measures to introduce and in many countries, the sport is still being played. However, it is most definitely not the only sport where social distancing could be practiced.
Take tennis as another example. Yes, players touch the same ball, but it is possible to prevent that through the use of gloves or by rotating the balls frequently. Again, no contact between players or participants is required. That’s before we touch on fencing… With a mask, gloves and a sabre to fend off anyone who dares come within 2 metres, you could argue that fencing is one of the safer activities you could engage in during this period.
Of course, these examples in no way detract from the severity of the situation we find ourselves in. We should be under no illusions that returning to ‘normal’ will take a long time, and there will be many sacrifices required along the way. However, that doesn’t mean that a one size fits all approach is always necessary. In Germany, three of the countries’ federal states have allowed the reintroduction of tennis and a fourth looks likely to follow suit next week. While, in recent weeks, the Sports Confederation of Denmark agreed guidelines with the Danish Government meaning golf and other non-contact sports could begin to return.
At Sportside, we have always advocated participation in sport, and we will continue to do so – as long as it is safe to do so. Thus far, it is clear that the majority of sports including rugby and football will see longer lasting, more severe restrictions placed on them for weeks and months to come. If that is the best way to ensure the safety of players, participants and spectators alike then that is what should happen. However, with the Government placing an emphasis on the physical and mental wellbeing of people the length and breadth of the country, a phased return to safe sporting environments could well become part of that plan.