Chiefs urge Government to see sport as part of ‘solution’ rather than problem

PA Sport Staff
·6-min read

Sports chiefs have called on the Government to see their respective pursuits as part of the “solution” rather than the problem as they wrestle with the implications of the tightened coronavirus lockdown measures.

Golf and tennis are among the outdoor sports to be shut down in England – although the former can continue in small groups in Scotland – while Skateboard GB says the rules relating to outdoor skate parks remain unclear.

England Golf chief executive Jeremy Tomlinson said he regretted having failed to convince the Government of the physical and mental benefits of allowing the sport to continue under strict social-distancing rules.

Tomlinson told the PA news agency: “I apologise to all golfers out there that we haven’t been able to help the Government understand that golf could be part of a solution as opposed to the problem.

“I would very much class golf as part of walking, running and cycling; it’s in the open air, you naturally socially distance, you don’t touch anybody else’s equipment, you get a mental application, enjoyment and relaxation from it.

“And that’s before you even consider the strain that’s going to be on the open spaces and parks in an unregulated fashion.

“You would be taking circa 2 million people away from that, getting them on the golf courses, exercising in that way and again I think that could be a real positive.

“I hope to be able to convince the Government of that and at the very least to bring golf back sooner, rather than later.”

Graeme McDowell and Lee Westwood have tweeted their support for a petition to keep golf courses open, with former US Open champion McDowell writing: “With correct safety measures, golf is a sport which can easily function in these tough times. Great for exercise and general well being.”

Tomlinson’s view was echoed by Skateboard GB chief executive James Hope-Gill, who said he saw no reason why the sport should not continue even as the status of some local authority skate parks remains unclear.

While indoor skate parks have been ordered to close, there is no specific mention of the fate of outdoor facilities, some but not all of which are operated by local authorities, in the latest guidelines.

“Skateboarding is a naturally socially-distancing sport and our ideal scenario would be that outdoor skate parks remain open because they are places people can go that are of physical and mental benefit.

“But all you need is a skateboard and a piece of flat ground. It is as legitimate a mode of transport as cycling, so as long as you are doing it safely and socially-distancing, we would urge people to keep skateboarding.”

Alex Decunha Feature
Uncertainty surrounds the immediate future of outdoor skate parks (Jacob King/PA)

Health and leisure officials welcomed the announcement that the industry – as part of the whole retail, hospitality and leisure sector – is eligible to apply for funding from £4.6billion in Government grants.

It is understood, however, that there is a maximum grant of £9,000 per facility based on rateable value, and there are only 7,200 facilities in the fitness and leisure sector.

Officials also stressed the need to protect “the physical and mental wellbeing of people across the UK” in light of the closure of a wide range of facilities.

A spokesperson for the Sport and Recreation Alliance, which represents over 320 national sports organisations across the UK, said: “The Sport and Recreation Alliance welcomes the Chancellor’s announcement of additional financial support today and we will be working with our members and Government over the coming days and weeks to understand what further support may be required.

“We continue to believe that sport and physical activity are key to supporting the nation’s health and wellbeing during this difficult period and hope that, as restrictions are lifted, grassroots activities can be restarted and facilities reopened as quickly as possible.”

However Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive, said in a statement: “While we welcome the further support from the Chancellor, the top-up grants and funding pots will not be sufficient to save our sector’s facilities and jobs, particularly once shared across the retail, hospitality and leisure industries, as this will be no more than a sticking plaster for the financial challenges being faced.”

The Lawn Tennis Association also made a case for its sport to continue, while the British Horseracing Authority confirmed racing would go ahead behind closed doors.

GB Taekwondo performance director Gary Hall warned the impact of the closure of sporting facilities would not be fully appreciated for a number of years.

Hall said: “The long-term damage could be significant because you are switching so many young people off.

“You’ve got to stimulate the grassroots and it’s an issue that will come back to haunt us in two or three years because there will be fewer people doing sports.

WTF World Taekwondo Grand Prix 2018 – Day Three – Regional Arena
Future taekwondo stars may be few and far between (Martin Rickett/PA)

“I believe there is always a way to keep activity going, and I think there should have been a way to maintain it, in a limited and carefully-controlled way, for the next six weeks.”

Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, whose club play Manchester City in their Carabao Cup semi-final on Wednesday, acknowledged that elite sport was in a “privileged” position in being allowed to continue.

“Of course it’s a hard and difficult situation for everyone,” the Norwegian said.

“Last year, since March until now, has been a testing time for everyone and we are privileged to be able to play football under the protocols that we are working under.

“Hopefully we can continue. I think mentally for many it would be a release to watch games now, especially in full lockdown again, so hopefully we can continue.

“But we know that we have to work hard to stay within the rules and guidelines and that we’re doing our best to keep the show on the road.”

Forty positive coronavirus cases were discovered over two rounds of Premier League testing in late December and early January.

The league announced its latest figures on Tuesday afternoon which showed that of 1,311 players and club staff tested between December 28 and 31, 28 came back positive for Covid-19.