Which sports can I no longer do?
The new announcement means that indoor adult team sports with more than six people will be outlawed, meaning mass participation activities like netball, basketball, five-a-side football and volleyball cannot fully return. Recreation sport had previously been exempt from the ‘rule of six’ provided that they followed approved Covid-19 protocols. Not every sport was fully back but an increasing number of governing bodies had drawn up guidelines which, in the eyes of the government, had sufficiently mitigated risk. Indoor competitive netball leagues, for example, had been due to resume next week and now cannot.
How does the ‘rule of six’ impact gyms, exercise classes and swimming pools?
These activities can continue to operate as they have since July, provided that they have ‘Covid-secure’ measures in place. This involves reduced numbers, social distancing, additional cleaning protocols and procedures around entry, exit, changing and moving around facilities which minimise risk.
What about indoor sports which involve less than six people?
Provided that an individual sport’s framework to return has been approved by government, sports with less than six people can continue. This means that activities like badminton, table-tennis, trampolining, gymnastics and tennis can still be played indoors, subject to approved measures that mitigate risk and maintain social distancing.
Do the new rules apply to children?
No. Indoor team sports involving children can continue.
Do the new rules apply to professional or elite sports?
No. Elite sports are expected to also be exempt from the rule. Governing bodies have requested particular clarification from the government but competitions like the Netball Superleague and British Basketball League are expected to return provided that they follow agreed protocols and there are no crowds.
Could sports be adapted to get around the rule?
Yes, that is possible and something that some governing bodies will consider to try to maintain participation and interest in their sport. Introducing variations that reduce numbers to six or below, or even that adapts the rules to fewer numbers, are being considered. These would still need to be put forward to government for approval.
Can team sports continue outdoors?
Yes, and that is an option that some leagues and sports will consider. Five and six-a-side football leagues are held both indoors and outdoors. Sports like netball, basketball and volleyball can also be played outside, but the winter weather and pressure on facilities will clearly impact on availability and numbers. Sara Bayman, the head coach of Superleague netball side Loughborough Lightning, described the news as “pretty devastating” for the sport. “You can take netball outside, but we’re heading into winter and people won’t want to play netball outside in the freezing cold,” she said. “The injury risks can often grow quite astronomically. It also puts players off the game. For the community game in particular, it’s a massive blow.”
What are the financial implications?
It will further reduce income for governing bodies, competition organisers and facility operators at a time when the entire sports industry is facing a huge financial crisis. A request for a bailout loan is with the government but urgent decisions are needed.
Almost half of all community leisure facilities are at risk of closure, including 1,300 by the end of the year. Around 6,000 permanent and casual staff have also already lost their jobs in the sector. Only 44 per cent of leisure facilities were able to reopen even when lockdown measures eased in July due to the financial impact of the closure since March and the viability of reopening with limited numbers of customers.
How long will this last and could more restrictions follow?
Prime Minister Boris Johnson indicated that the new measures would last for six months, meaning that many of the most popular indoor participation sports will simply be unavailable through the winter. That could mean less people are active or drive new interest in other sports or activities. There is concern, however, among other indoor sports, as well gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools, that they could be impacted by further restrictions if the new measures do not succeed in getting the spread of Covid-19 under control.