Professional sport has received the green light to kick off again – albeit behind closed doors – from Monday.
The government issued safety guidelines under stage three of its plan to take sport out of the coronavirus lockdown, after athletes were recently allowed to resume close-contact training.
Horse racing will become the first major UK sport to resume in almost three months on Monday.
Premier League football is set to follow on 17 June, with the English Football League following later in the month – if it receives enough club votes and approval from police and safety bodies.
Sport Secretary Oliver Dowden called this a “significant moment for British sport” and said “the wait is over”.
He said: “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.”
Premier League chief executive Richard Masters welcomed the government’s announcement, but said plans to restart the Premier League on 17 June were “provisional” as there was still work to be done regarding safety.
“If all goes well, we will be thrilled to resume the 2019-20 season in just over two weeks’ time,” he said.
No spectators will be allowed at any events.
Players must travel alone and in private transport, COVID-19 screening must take place at every venue and suspected carriers of the virus must be placed in isolation.
Other rules include one-way movement systems, socially distanced celebrations and bench-sitting “where possible”.
Advice on personal protective gear must be followed, while use of dressing rooms and physiotherapy must be minimal.
At Saturday’s daily coronavirus briefing, Mr Dowden was asked about the tension between Premier League clubs who want their stadiums to be used, and police forces who could request neutral venues.
He said it was up to each sport to apply government guidelines – adding police and local authorities will determine venues together.
England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said fans gathering outside stadiums would be crucial in choosing venues and police would deal with the behaviour.
“There has to be enough understanding that the venue can cope with the segregation and the organisation and the social distancing, right up until the kick off whistle until the final whistle,” he said.
British Horse Racing chief executive Nick Rust said the return of Newcastle racing on Monday was a financial lifeline and would help “lift the mood of the nation”.
Racecourses across the country have adapted new rules.
At Lingfield Park, where racing starts on Friday, there will be no hospitality, no betting and no fans.
In the changing rooms, plastic partitions have been erected to keep jockeys more than 2m apart. Catering facilities, showers and saunas will stay closed.
The parade ring has been sprayed with white paint as a reminder of social distancing.
Trainer James Boyle said the break from professional racing has meant “some trainers have had to call it a day already”.
But the government is still criticised in some quarters for not ordering sport to shutdown sooner.
Racing was among the last sports to shut down and images of the packed grandstands at the Cheltenham Festival in March haunt those who defended the decision to have the race meeting.
But BHA chief executive Nick Rust says it’s unfair that criticism has mostly been aimed at Cheltenham.
“The week that the Cheltenham festival was on, there were still 3 million people travelling on the Tube in London, we had Crufts, we had European football, we had international rugby,” he said.
“All of those were listening to government advice and it’s unfortunate that it’s being focused on Cheltenham.”
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