John Dawes obituaryAdventurous rugby union captain who led Wales, the British Lions and the Barbarians to inspirational successes John Dawes playing for London Welsh against Abertillery at Old Deer Park, Richmond, south-west London, in 1970. Photograph: Colorsport/Rex/ShutterstocRead More »
The sporting "Crown Jewels" of English summer are facing pressure to scale-up crowd numbers significantly after the Prime Minister insisted he was "very positive" about the end of social distancing. A leading public health scientist joined industry figures in calling for Wimbledon and other events to abandon their "excessively conservative" plans following Boris Johnson's upbeat assessment. Twickenham and Wembley plan to be at least half full by July. And after the Government formally enacted plans for 10,000 spectators to return from Monday, the R&A on Tuesday became the latest sporting body to say it increasingly confident that a "significant" number of spectators will be allowed to attend the Open Championship in July. Other events are being more cautious, however. The All England Club is currently restricting itself to 25 per cent capacity, despite beginning a week after the Government is due to release most restrictions. Professor Robert Dingwall, a public health expert at Nottingham Trent University's School of Social Sciences, suggested that Wimbledon should be planning for attendances of up to 70 per cent. Describing current plans in racing and tennis as "excessively conservative and inflexible", he told The Telegraph governing bodies should be feeling emboldened. "There is a broad scientific consensus that outdoors is as near zero risk as any scientist will ever commit to, unless spending any length of time in a very crowded space with restricted air movement," he added. "Given this, I would have thought that large outdoor sports venues could be considered on a case by case basis - there aren't so many of them. Where you have a high proportion of spectators in open spaces, which would apply to large areas of most racecourses or the outside courts at Wimbledon, I would have thought you could have a high proportion of normal capacity - maybe 60-70 per cent rather than 25 per cent." The All England Club has stated that it is flexible in its arrangements, and insiders believe bigger percentages for Centre Court and No1 are all-but-certain by the end of the fortnight. Royal Ascot could be added to pilot programme Royal Ascot could be granted Government pilot status to boost spectator numbers next month. High level talks are taking place between Whitehall and racing regulators, with hopes growing that the sport's current 4,000 limit can be loosened significantly. Ascot had expressed hope prior to Monday's announcement that numbers will at least be scaled up to 10,000 for an event that often attracts 60,000 a day. A 10,000 limit could increase even further under one proposal mooted within the sport to add the festival to the national events research programme (ERP). In racing, like all sports, the Government has final say on crowd limits. The British Horseracing Authority announced an initial 4,000 limit on Monday, but said the sport "is planning for a full return of spectators and further easing of on-course restrictions at the next stage (Step 4) of the UK Government’s roadmap". "Ascot could probably hold 80,000 - 4,000 is so so small," said Sam Hoskins, a racehorse syndicate manager who runs both Kennet Valley Thoroughbreds and Hot To Trot Racing. "We need the authorities to see that one size does not fit all. I just hope some discretion can be used because a lot of these big racecourses are very safe places." Premier League focussed on next season The Premier League, meanwhile, continues to lobby hard for guarantees on full venues by the start of next season. Richard Masters, the league's chief executive, said 10,000 at the final two rounds of the campaign will "ensure a fantastic finale to the end of our season", but he added: "We will continue to work with the Government and other authorities as our priority is to have full vibrant stadiums – including away supporters - from the start of next season. Only then will we get back to the real Premier League." As stadiums finally got the green light to reopen in bigger numbers than have been seen for 14 months, the Big Six club owners stood accused of failing to learn lessons from the European Super League fiasco. Supporters drew a sharp distinction between Burnley, who are giving more than 3,000 tickets away for free, and Tottenham Hotspur, who have set a price band of £60 for their only home fixture against Aston Villa. Malcolm Clarke, chairman of the Football Supporters' Association, told The Telegraph: "In general terms, it doesn't surprise me that Burnley are doing something decent - and it doesn't surprise me that the greedy six might not be doing something decent. We would welcome any club that recognises the sacrifices that supporters have made along with everybody else." Rugby Union is also pushing hard to increase crowd numbers, with hopes that England fixtures against USA and Canada on July 4 and 10 will be watched by a half-full Twickenham. Government confirmation that the nation is on track in its roadmap out of lockdown confirmed plans first set out on February 22. “We’ll unlock the turnstiles of our sports stadia subject to capacity limits,” the PM confirmed. Significantly higher numbers of spectators are expected from June 21 onwards. "I'm optimistic that things will get back much closer to normality, let me put it like that," said Mr Johnson, when pressed for further detail. "You'll hear a lot more by the end of this month about exactly what the world after June 21 is going to look like. At the moment, I'm feeling very positive about it, but we've got to be guided by the data." Government crowd pilots continue on Saturday when 22,000 people attend the FA Cup final between Chelsea and Leicester at Wembley. It emerged that the Duke of Cambridge will be on hand to present the trophy to the winners. However, despite the upbeat assessment from scientists and politicians yesterday, only one in four people are planning on attending football matches or music gigs as soon as restrictions allow, a survey suggests. The survey, conducted by Yonder, on behalf of leading Covid-19 testing company Cignpost ExpressTest, found around half would return to events if measures such as PCR testing, reduced capacity and social distancing, were in place.
Dementia in rugby players and boxers, as well as footballers, could be formally recognised as an industrial disease after the government’s key scientific advisers agreed to widen their deliberations to a range of contact sports. With Fifa admitting they now suspect a link between heading and brain injury, the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC) heard evidence at its latest meeting from the Glasgow neuropathologist Dr Willie Stewart as part of its ongoing investigation into football. Dr Stewart found former professional players were three-and-a-half times more likely to die of neurodegenerative disease and his landmark research is being used in support of a coalition of charities, including the Jeff Astle Foundation, Head for Change and the Professional Footballers’ Association, who are calling for dementia in football to be formally recognised. This would make former footballers living with dementia eligible for a capped weekly benefit of up to £180 per week which is currently paid to people who have become disabled because of an accident at work, or due to certain prescribed diseases caused by their job. Guidelines state a disease must be at least twice as prevalent in a particular industry. The IIAC is currently reviewing the evidence in relation to football but, with neurodegenerative disease also worryingly apparent among former professionals in sports like rugby union, rugby league and boxing, the inquiry may be extended to include other contact sports. It has been agreed a research working group will consider the wider available evidence and make a recommendation. It comes as Andy Massey, Fifa’s medical director, acknowledged the questions facing football over brain disease. "What we need to find out is what is it that they are doing within football that is causing it," he said. "We think it is heading, we think heading has a role to play in it but it’s very difficult to set up a scientific study. Heading is part of football. If there is a risk associated with heading, then we have to be open with it and let people make their own decision about whether they want to play football and head the ball during football. "We do have to think about the younger age groups who maybe are not in the position to make that informed consensual decision and protect them." Fifa has also announced 'concussion spotters' will be in the stands now at all its competitions, as has long been the case in American football’s NFL, to help team medics identify possible on-field concussions. A desire to limit heading has already prompted the Premier League, the English Football League and the Football Association to set up a separate working group to recommend heading restrictions in training from the start of next season. Richard Bevan, the chief executive of the League Managers’ Association, has also told Telegraph Sport he would welcome talks with other stakeholders about a potential industry care fund for former professional players and their families. "The cost is enormous," said Bevan. "Could sport centrally raise funds? We should be joined up not just with football but other sports as well. I for one would welcome that discussion and in particular how you help the unpaid careers. "It is something that should be discussed. We should be making sure what resources we have are maximising every pound." Bevan is also on the board of the Alzheimer Society’s new Sport United Against Dementia campaign, which is working with a range of different sports to provide advice and support to families on issues ranging from care plans to accessing benefits. Initial research into heading limits has suggested that there are still coaches who might be 'outliers' in terms of their training practices, but Bevan believe his members will want to prioritise the future safety of its players. "People's wellbeing and health must be at the heart of every decision going forward," he said.
Most-capped Rugby Union player in history is set to lead out Warren Gatland’s side this summer