A much-needed return for children's sport also plays a key part in plans
LOGO: Keep Kids Active in Lockdown
Outdoor grass-roots sport for all ages is set to be granted a nationwide reprieve under Boris Johnson’s plans to relax coronavirus restrictions, the Telegraph understands.
Golf courses, tennis courts and football clubs are likely to be told they can reopen next week, even in the most severely affected areas under a new tier system.
A much-needed return for children’s sport also plays a key part in plans after The Telegraph raised awareness of the plight facing youngsters during its ‘Keep Kids Active in Lockdown’ campaign.
The Prime Minister is also expected to detail on Monday how gyms can reopen across the nation as he details a tougher three-tier system for England when national lockdown ends on Dec 2.
Plans were being finalised in Whitehall on Sunday night, but outdoor sport is likely to be granted exemption from new "rule of six" gathering restrictions in worst-hit areas.
More than 130 leading figures from sport expressed support for The Telegraph’s campaign which called on Government to rethink its decision to wipe out children’s sport when the second lockdown was announced.
Ministers initially resisted warnings from epidemiologists, public health experts and cross-party MPs that youngsters were facing a mental and physical health timebomb due to the restrictions. The Sports and Recreation Alliance, which represents UK national sports organisations including the FA and Rugby Football Union along with community sport, had also warned the new lockdown, implemented from November, may "prove to be the final nail in the coffin" for grass-roots clubs.
However, Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, promised in an article for The Telegraph on Nov 5 that "grass-roots sport will be one of the first social activities to return". "Like countless Telegraph readers and all the sports stars who have lent their name to this campaign, I want to see kids reunited with their teammates as soon as possible," he wrote.
On Sunday night Government sources said ministers had always been "very uncomfortable" with the potential impact the second lockdown was having on children.
Ambiguity and confusion for teachers over the risk of Covid infection inside and outdoors at schools led to many schools scaling back contact sports or abandoning them altogether during PE classes.
The ‘Keep Kids Active in Lockdown’ campaign struck a chord in sport like few other newspaper campaigns had done before. Lord Coe, Sir Mo Farah, Baroness Grey-Thompson and Sir Nick Faldo were among more than 100 sports personalities, leaders, experts and politicians to sign a letter from this newspaper to Mr Dowden.
Alistair and Jonny Brownlee, Denise Lewis, Phil Foden, Gary Neville, Sir Geoffrey Boycott, Sir Ian McGeechan and Nick Skelton also added their names to calls for a rethink by the Prime Minister as it emerged that his chief scientific adviser had seen no evidence to support the ban.
Last week Nigel Huddleston, the sports minister, recognised the situation facing children’s sport was "really frustrating", as he promised again that grass-roots sport was "at the front of the queue" to return as "a priority area".
However, he defended his Government’s decision to refuse to give organised sport an exemption from the current restrictions. "As a parent I wouldn’t want to let my kids out if I was confident it was safe," he said. Sport, he said, would return "as soon as we see the evidence that the numbers are starting to come down".
The new nightmare scenario for grass-roots youth sport is that a fresh lockdown is ordered in January if restrictions are eased at Christmas. Labour’s Alison McGovern says grass-roots sport has been “messed about” by the Government.
Mr Johnson will detail the "strengthened" tiered system in a statement to the House of Commons this afternoon, but the full details of the festive relaxation is not expected until after the first ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland consult their own cabinets.
As reported by The Telegraph last week, allowing crowds in small numbers at open-air stadiums is also being discussed, but people are set to remain blocked from mixing with family and friends indoors under Tier 2 or 3.
A potential reopening for leisure centres comes days after the sector warned they may never re-open unless Government brings forward a financial rescue package in this week’s Spending Review.
The District Councils’ Network, which represents authorities responsible for providing leisure services, forecasts a financial hit to outsourced district council leisure centres of around £324 million this year.