LONDON (Reuters) - After a near three-month shutdown, elite competitive sport in England can resume from Monday behind closed doors provided strict conditions are met, the government said on Saturday.
The first major event is expected to be the 2000 Guineas Stakes horse race at Newmarket on June 6, although horse race meetings will be staged, without any spectators, starting on Monday at Newcastle and Tuesday at Kempton Park.
Competitive sport was suspended in Britain in March in response to the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 38,000 people in the UK to date.
Guidelines published on Saturday by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), outlined a lengthy list of criteria that must be met to allow elite athletes and professional sportsmen to resume competition.
“The wait is over. Live British sport will shortly be back on in safe and carefully controlled environments,” Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said in a statement.
“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.”
Dowden confirmed that preparations were being finalised for the Premier League and English Football League to return to action in June. Premier League shareholders this week agreed a return to contact training with a provisional restart date of June 17, provided safety requirements are in place.
“The Premier League welcomes the government’s announcement today,” an EPL statement said. “We have provisionally planned to restart the Premier League on June 17, but there is still much work to be done to ensure the safety of all involved.”
DCMS said a “significant proportion” of the remaining 92 Premier League matches will be shown on free-to-air platforms.
“The British sports bounceback has begun,” it said on Twitter.
While the Premier League could resume on June 17, other sports are in different positions. Domestic cricket remains suspended until Aug. 1, while the Wimbledon tennis tournament has been cancelled for the first time since World War II. Premiership rugby clubs hope to resume training from June 8.
The government’s latest step for the resumption of elite level sport follow its ‘stage two’ guidance published on May 25 which allowed elite athletes to resume group training under carefully controlled conditions.
“This is a significant moment for British sport. By working with clinicians every step of the way, we’re creating the safest possible environments for everyone involved,” Dowden said.
Measures, agreed in conjunction with Public Health England and medical representatives from sports bodies, include players travelling alone to venues, being screened for coronavirus symptoms before entering, and maintaining social distancing where possible, including celebrations.
Dressing room usage will be minimised and only essential physiotherapy allowed while recovery sessions will be held outside. High-contact areas must be regularly disinfected, while catering must be limited.
The government also announced on Saturday that people in England will be able to exercise outside with up to five others from different households from Monday. The announcement did not apply to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Toby Davis