After the initial flurry of excitement around vaccines and Christmas gatherings had calmed down, came the slightly sobering news that large swathes of the country could be placed back in Tier 3 after the Government meets to review the situation next week.
This has the potential to deal another seismic blow to elite and grassroots sport – but there are certain sports that can still thrive under Tier 3 and they have been making moves.
This week England Golf and the Angling Trust both asked the Government for all outdoor sport and recreation to be included among the activities exempt from Tier 3 travel restrictions.
There is little doubting the social distancing nature of both sports but, because of the lack of facilities in certain areas, those wanting to engage in a round of golf or a spot of fishing, could be denied crossing boundaries into different tiers to do so.
With the next tier review happening on Dec 16, both sports are anxious that their sports – and other grassroots activities – are allowed to continue regardless of the latest news.
“It’s a nonsense to think that competitive grass-roots sports, like golf, angling and many others, can operate properly if confined within tightly drawn local council boundaries,” Martin Salter, head of policy at the Angling Trust, told The Daily Telegraph.
“It’s one thing being restricted to an entire county but quite another if people are told they shouldn’t leave a built up urban area to take part in a safe, socially distanced sport like fishing.”
There was good news for the nation’s anglers this week when the Environment Agency and Angling Trust announced a new £100k ‘Get Fishing Fund’ in a bid to get people back into the sport if they have taken a break from it – or try it for the first time.
The agency said that grants of up to £500 for small-scale projects and £5000 for larger projects would be made delivery – helping fisheries to be Covid compliant, help them with resource, events, promotional material and storage facilities.
In a bleak 2020, angling has been one sport to really benefit from the country’s enforced periods of lockdown and statistics showed that over 900,000 people have bought or renewed a fishing licence since April this year, with 100,000 taking up the sport.
Graeme Storey, Fisheries Manager for the Environment Agency, said: “We are always looking for ways to support our angling community and the Environment Agency has invested £1.5M of the additional income from this year’s licence sales back into projects that improve fisheries.
“The increased interest in fishing over the summer proves that people are not only rediscovering angling but more people are trying angling for the first time. We want to see this continue and hope that these new projects will encourage more people to give fishing a go.”
Clive Copeland, Head of Participation at the Angling Trust, added: “We work with a great network of coaches, clubs and fisheries across the country which this fund will help but this also a fantastic opportunity for new partners to get involved in angling participation too.”
Fishing is a sport that has traditionally been viewed as a male preserve but the governing bodies are keen to attract a new audience too.
In a recent interview with the Telegraph Women’s Sport supplement, Beverly Clifford, the manager of the England Women’s Carp Fishing team, explained that things are changing rapidly.
There is definitely an old-school side to angling,” she admitted. “I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard that women don’t belong on the river bank, they belong in the kitchen.” But, she added, female angling participation is thriving and she is at the forefront of the revolution.
“Even five years ago, you could probably count the number of females fishing on the fingers of two hands. Now there are thousands of us.”
And, she explained, it is the ideal lockdown sport. “It’s the best destressing thing you can do. You can’t hurry a fish. You just have to wait. And that waiting does something to the mind. At the end of a day by the water, you come away feeling like you’ve been rebooted.”
There is no physical reason for angling to be a male preserve – with women equally able to cast a rod as far as a man – but Clifford told The Telegraph that it has been a great boon for the sport that there are now women-only international matches. The first was between England and Wales only four years ago.
“Although women can compete against men, when it comes to spreading the word, women-only tournaments have really worked,” she said. “When men are involved women can feel intimidated. But when you get a bunch of women together on the bank, they have a right laugh.”
Away from the river, it is also a big week for women’s golf with the Women’s US Open starting on Thursday at Cypress Creek, Texas. With golf viewers having enjoyed the Dustin Johnson masterclass at The Masters just a matter of weeks ago, along comes another major to keep them entertained.
And credit must go to the USGA for ensuring that the tournament has gone ahead this week in a year when it might have been simpler to cancel. Earlier this week women’s golf legend Karrie Webb explained to younger tour players that if a pandemic had arrived earlier in her career it would have completely written off the LPGA season. Now, the success of the tour and the commitment of its sponsors ensures that 156 women will be teeing it up in Houston this week in the flagship event for the sport.
USGA social channels have been promoting a #womenworthwatching hashtag in recent weeks and asking its subscribers to think about a, frankly quite alarming, statistic: that in the States only 4 per cent of sports coverage includes women’s sport or female athletes. Yet around 40 per cent of all sports participants are female.
It is another big week for golf and another big week for women’s sport. Another chance for women’s sport to show its value and, more than anything, inspire others to connect and play. Whatever the weather.