Non-elite sport – including grassroots football – can resume in England from March 29 as the government begins to ease coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
Prime minister Boris Johnson is set to reveal a roadmap out of lockdown on Monday that will confirm schools in England will reopen to all pupils on March 8, with children’s after-school sports and activities also allowed to resume.
On the same date, outdoor recreation with one other person will also be permitted, meaning people will be allowed to sit together in a park with a coffee, drink or picnic.
Adults will have to wait a further three weeks to restart organised sports, with grassroots football set to resume along with the reopening of tennis courts, golf courses and other outdoor sport facilities.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told LBC: “The simple way to look at this is that outdoor is safer and therefore we
prioritise versus indoor.
“Outdoor sports – tennis, golf, outdoor organised team sports, grassroots football – will go back on March 29.”
Pushed on when gyms and fitness centres could reopen, he added: “At the moment, it’s outdoors versus indoors. Outdoors is the priority because it’s where the transmission rates are much, much, much lower.”
The relaxation of measures is the first stage of a four-part roadmap expected to include the reopening of non-essential retail and hospitality in the coming months.
But restrictions will be eased step-by-step across the whole of England, avoiding a return to the previous system of regional tiers.
The prime minister is due to announce his plan to the House of Commons on Monday afternoon, before leading a Downing Street news conference at 7pm. MPs will vote on the regulations in the coming weeks.
Johnson announced on January 4 the country would enter its third lockdown, and while elite sports were allowed to continue, amateur competition was suspended.
Following that announcement, both England Golf and the Lawn Tennis Association expressed disappointment at the decision, arguing that their sports are naturally socially distanced and should have been allowed to continue.
‘People are struggling to stay active’
People are becoming less physically active the longer the country remains in lockdown, data from UK Active suggests.
UK Active, a not-for-profit body representing the physical activity and fitness sector, has published data from a Savanta ComRes poll showing 42 per cent of adults are sitting for 14 hours longer a week during lockdown.
More than a third – 36 per cent – report being bored of their exercise options, UK Active said.
UK Active chief executive Huw Edwards said: “These findings show many people are really struggling to stay active, and we know this can have a major impact on mental and physical well-being, particularly for vulnerable groups.
“The first lockdown saw a welcome focus and motivation for maintaining active lives, however, it is clear that the longer our fitness and leisure facilities are closed, the harder it becomes for people to maintain a healthy level of activity.
“While many people have found support through a growing array of online fitness classes, it is vital for our national activity levels that our communities have access to a variety of safe facilities for sport and exercise.
“The Government needs to prioritise the reopening of our sector’s facilities when lockdown restrictions begin to ease, so they can return to their essential role in supporting our physical and mental health.”