Competitive sport in England gets green light for Monday restart


LONDON (Reuters) – After a near three-month shutdown, all competitive sport in England can resume from Monday behind closed doors provided strict conditions are met, the government said on Saturday.

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The first major live event is expected to be the 2000 Guineas Stakes horse race at Newmarket on June 6. Prior to that the Jockey Club Racecourses plans to hold its first behind closed doors fixture at Kempton Park on Tuesday of this week.

No competitive elite-level sport has taken place in Britain since March when the country went into lockdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic that has now killed more than 38,000 people in the UK.

A document published on Saturday by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), outlined a lengthy list of criteria that must be met to allow elite athletes and professional sportsmen to resume.

“The wait is over. Live British sport will shortly be back on in safe and carefully controlled environments,” Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said in a statement.

“This guidance provides the safe framework for sports to resume competitions behind closed doors. It is now up to individual sports to confirm they can meet these protocols and decide when it’s right for them to restart.”

Dowden confirmed that preparations were being finalised for the Premier League and English Football League to return to action in June. Premier League shareholders this week agreed a return to contact training with a provisional restart date of June 17, provided all safety requirements are in place.

“The Premier League welcomes the government’s announcement today,” a statement from the Premier League said. “We have provisionally planned to restart the Premier League on June 17, but there is still much work to be done to ensure the safety of all involved.”

A “significant proportion” of the remaining 92 Premier League matches will be broadcast on free-to-air platforms.

While the Premier League is on track to resume in just over two weeks’ time, other are in different positions.

Domestic cricket is suspended until Aug. 1, while the Wimbledon tennis championships has been cancelled for the first time since World War II.

Premiership rugby hopes to have clubs back in training from June 8.

The government’s latest plan for the resumption of elite level sport follow its ‘stage two’ guidance published on May 25 which allowed elite athletes to resume group training under carefully controlled conditions.

“This is a significant moment for British sport. By working with clinicians every step of the way, we are creating the safest possible environments for everyone involved,” Dowden said of the step-by-step guidelines.

Measures include players travelling alone to venues, being screened for coronavirus symptoms before entering, and maintaining social distancing where possible.

Dressing room usage must be minimised, only essential physiotherapy allowed, and recovery sessions held outside.

High-contact areas of venues will require regular disinfecting, while catering must be limited.

It will now be the responsibility of individual leagues and competitions to decide when they can resume.

Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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