Clubs must hold pilot trials to satisfy safety rules before a full reopening
By ALAN THATCHER – Squash Mad Editor
Squash clubs appear to have been given permission to reopen in a restricted fashion on July 25 following today’s government announcement, although this seems to be a date for launching a selective trial process to guarantee safety for players and club staff members. England Squash say they will release plans next week but suggest that safe distancing will need to apply.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden confirmed today that outdoor sports, including team games, will be able to restart in stages from this weekend, with indoor venues to follow on July 25.
However, all facilities will have to follow distancing guidelines introduced following the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dowden stated that indoor clubs will need to hold “pilot” trial sessions before being allowed to fully reopen. “Sports will publish sport-specific guidance,” he said.
Gyms have been instructed to allow 100 square feet per person, so how that kind of advice will translate to squash facilities is currently unclear.
Squash, of course, has been rated as a “high-risk activity” in a number of recent medical surveys because potentially infectious droplets of breath can be trapped inside poorly ventilated courts.
Today’s announcement will apply to England only. The Scottish government confirmed that indoor sports would have to continue to wait. Irish Squash was given the green light to return to full play last week but they chose to adopt a more cautious approach, with solo hitting and two-player training sessions that observe safe distancing protocols.
Sport England chief executive Tim Hollingsworth has welcomed the government’s announcement that recreational sport can continue its return on a larger scale, and that gym and leisure facilities are set to reopen.
In a Sport England statement, Hollingsworth said: “The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden, announced today that:
- indoor gyms, leisure facilities and swimming pools will be able to reopen from 25 July
- outdoor pools and cricket can begin this coming weekend
- the return of team sports will be facilitated by the relevant national governing body having their own sport-specific guidance approved by government.
“For the millions of people who have missed going to the gym, playing their favourite sport indoors, heading for a swim or training with their team-mates, today’s news is an important step forward and testament to the hard work so many have put in to preparing to restart and reopen,” he said.
“Now, more than ever, there is recognition of the vital role sport and activity plays in supporting people’s physical and mental health so there is a massive opportunity as we emerge from lockdown to truly embrace the idea that exercise is essential to our wellbeing and to recognise the opportunities all around us to be more active.
“We are also acutely aware that many providers, specifically public leisure centres which are such valuable assets in their communities, are facing significant financial challenges and many are at risk of being unable to reopen fully or may remain closed.
“Indoor facilities will need to prepare for reopening, so as the sport and physical activity sector gets ready for the continuing ‘return to play’, we’ve collated advice, guidance and resources (below) to help.
“With advice likely to evolve as restrictions change, we’ll monitor and update our guidance to ensure it’s in line with the what the government is advising and we’ll continue to listen to providers when they tell us what resources will help most.
“We will continue to work closely with government and key partners to help these operators to get as much as support as possible.”
England Squash has been contacted for a statement. In a post on Twitter, they said: “The UK Government has just announced that indoor sports facilities in England can reopen from 25th July with social distancing in place.
“In the meantime, we are interpreting the newly-released Government guidance. We will finalise and release full guidance for clubs and venues to facilitate safe play next week.”
Mike Hegarty, a director of Lexden Rackets and Fitness Club in Colchester, has offered to make the club available to England Squash for testing procedures.
Government figures today revealed that another 85 people have died after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK, taking the total number of deaths to 44,602 from 288,000 cases of infection.
In America, College sports programmes have been cancelled for the remainder of this year and a number of universities, including Stanford and Brown, have axed their squash teams in a bid to save money.
The USA has so far seen more than three million cases of coronavirus, with 134,000 deaths. In New York, where the iconic Tournament of Champions is due to take place early next year, there have been 400,000 infections and 32,000 deaths. Neighbouring New Jersey has 176,000 cases of infection with 15,000 deaths.
+++ UK Government advice published today for providers of grassroots sport and indoor indoor gym and leisure facilities