Coronavirus: Grassroots football in England suspended during lockdown

Eighth-tier Cray Valley Paper Mills are playing in the FA Cup first round for the first time on Sunday when they travel to Havant and Waterlooville

All adult and children’s grassroots football is to be suspended in England during the national Covid-19 lockdown.

Restrictions will run from Thursday, 5 November until Wednesday, 2 December.

No men’s teams in leagues below National Leagues North or South will be able to train or play and women’s competitions below the second-tier Championship are also suspended.

The restrictions also apply to all youth and indoor teams, but lower-league sides can play in the FA Cup.

‘Non-elite’ teams in this weekend’s FA Cup first round will play and train under ‘elite’ conditions for as long as they remain in the competition.

However, BBC Sport understands the Women’s FA Cup will be paused during lockdown, while the Football Association has yet to make an announcement on their plans for the FA Trophy, FA Vase and FA Youth Cup.

“Our aim is to ensure that the 2020-21 season is completed at these levels and will liaise with the relevant leagues in the NLS [National League System] and WFP [Women’s Football Pyramid] and the County Football Associations to provide support and establish appropriate options to do so if required,” an FA statement read.

“Re-starting football at these levels has taken substantial determination and commitment from stakeholders across the game and we would like to thank everyone for their vital contributions.

“However, health and wellbeing remain the priority, so it is extremely important that clubs, players, coaches, match officials, league officials, volunteers, parents, carers and facility providers adhere to the UK Government’s new national Covid-19 restrictions during this period.”

Youth sport limited to schools

There were calls for youth sport to be exempt when the new restrictions come into effect on Thursday.

But Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden confirmed it would only be permitted in school.

“Unfortunately we need to pause grassroots sport outside school to reduce the transmission risk from households mixing,” he tweeted.external-link

“As soon as we can resume this, we will.”

Elite sport can continue behind closed doors during the lockdown.

Former Wales midfielder Robbie Savage, who coaches a junior team, criticised the decision to suspend children’s sport in a series of tweets.

Quoting Dowden’s tweet, he said: “Have you or any of your senior government officials been to a grassroots game since lockdown? Do you have any idea what it’s like for thousands of grassroots volunteers? Do you know the impact of this decision on youngsters’ mental and physical wellbeing?”

Chelsea boss Frank Lampard added: “I’m a massive advocate for children to play all sorts of sports, but at unprecedented times, we are reliant on the government and scientists. If it can be done if a safe way, I think for physical and mental health, we must strive to do it as much as we can.

“It’s a tough time and I’m a father, so I do worry. I don’t know all the data, but as a parent, if you can remain active and encourage your children to be active in this tough time, it’s a great thing to do.

“I would really encourage us to find a way to keep children active, but it has to be in a safe way so we don’t see long term issues coming back from it later in these youngsters’ lives.”

Youth Sports Trust chief executive Ali Oliver earlier told BBC Sport that under a quarter of secondary schools do not offer physical education.

“To lose some grassroots clubs will leave us with a legacy of a generation who are inactive and unable to find a way into sport,” she said.

Former Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee chair Damian Collins had written to Dowden asking the government to allow youth sport to continue in England after 5 November.

He called on the government to extend the definition of elite sport to include academy players at Premier League clubs and those in development centres such as the England Rugby developing player programme and Sport England’s talented athlete scholarship scheme.

“Young people will currently be allowed to continue with sport at school, and we believe that the risks to the spread of the coronavirus from outdoor grassroots youth sport would be minimal,” he said, in a letter also signed by former sports ministers Tracey Crouch and Helen Grant.

“There would, however, be clear and lasting benefits for these young people if the government could support this.”

Leisure centres and gyms will close, as will other indoor and outdoor leisure facilities.

On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the House of Commons that there would be no exemptions.

Trio of federations make late bid for exemptions

British Cycling, England Athletics and British Triathlon have joined together to write to Dowden to ask that small group rides and runs, and coaching sessions for young people and those with disabilities, are allowed to continue.

The three said that while they understood the government’s challenges, the new rules would have the worst impact on those who need additional support to enable them to be active.

“We know that sport must play its part in this national effort, and we fully accept that as governing bodies we must play our part while the rest of the country is being asked to make such enormous sacrifices in their own lives,” said a statement.

“However, we also believe that we have a duty to enable people to lead healthy, active lives during this period of extreme mental toil – particularly when, as we have demonstrated over the course of this year, it can be done safely.”


BBC sports editor Dan Roan

The government’s refusal to grant exemptions to tennis, golf, gyms and swimming pools is proving among the most contentious elements of the second national lockdown.

But the decision to suspend youth sport is especially controversial.

The government insists it is necessary to reduce the risk of transmission through the mixing of households. But for many involved in junior grassroots teams, it is a disproportionate and unnecessary measure that risks doing more harm than good, damaging youngsters’ physical and mental health at a time when the amount of PE and organised sport provided in many schools has already decreased as a result of the pandemic.

Last month the Youth Sport Trust found that a fifth of secondary schools and a sixth of primary schools had cut PE since the first lockdown, and half would be delivering less extracurricular sport in the autumn term.

Given this trend – and the fact it is harder for young people to exercise outside school hours in the winter months – there will be mounting pressure on ministers to reconsider – and if not, to make the return of youth sport next month a priority, even if the lockdown extends beyond that.

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