UK Government outlines steps for safe training return
Govt issue 14-point protocol for safe return to training outlining guidelines sports clubs and athletes will follow
Last Updated: 13/05/20 9:17pm
The UK Government says no professional athlete should be forced to return to training, stressing that choice should be "a personal one".
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) issued a document on Wednesday featuring guidance designed to allow each sport to make a risk assessment on when it is safe for training to resume amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The document is not legally binding and does not replace any Government or Public Health England advice, but is rather a set of recommended minimum practice guidance on a return to training.
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Proposed measures include a deep cleaning of facilities and a regular screening of athletes and staff for COVID-19 symptoms before and after they enter, expected to be carried out by an appropriately trained healthcare professional.
All athletes and support staff will be expected to engage in a one-to-one check-in prior to any resumption of organised training, to ensure they have understood the sport-specific risks and mitigations, training site protocols in place, and are physically and mentally well enough to proceed.
"I know our sports stars are keen to get back to training and this guidance will enable them to do so in a safe way," said Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for DCMS. "Our top priority is protecting the health of athletes, coaches and support staff.
"Enabling athletes to get match-fit is an important milestone towards restarting competitive sport behind closed doors - but we have not given a green light yet. We are clear that this can only happen on the advice of medical experts and when it is safe to do so."
The guidelines have been put together following consultation involving athletes, coaches, chief medical officers, chief executives, performance and operations directors across a range of Olympic, Paralympic and other professional sports.
Govt's two-step approach to training return
The DCMS document contains a two-step approach to a return to training that outlines how sports teams can phase out the process in full compliance with the Government's health guidelines.
Elite sports should ensure they seek independent advice from medical practitioners prior to any return to training - something which the Premier League has already done.
Step 1, which can be applied immediately, is a return to a level of organised individual training or groups of individual athletes training in the same facility while adhering to social distancing guidelines from the government.
It can be applied immediately and has no timeframe, as some sports will return to training sooner than others.
Step 2 involves a level of 'social clustering' within the training environment, where small groups of athletes and staff can interact in much closer contact - such as close quarter coaching, teams sports tackling and equipment sharing.
"The additional guidance necessary for operating under step two will be finalised and communicated once when the government has agreed to move to this step, following advice from PHE and medical experts that it is safe to do so," the document said.
"Should a known or suspected COVID-19 case occur in the training environment or an individual be identified as a contact of a known case the individual/s in question should be placed in isolation and follow the PHE guidelines.
"The designated medical officer should be immediately informed if not involved with identifying and isolating the case at the training venue."
Analysis: Sport makes baby steps
Sky Sports News reporter Geraint Hughes...
Essentially, all the guidance is common sense and in line with what was expected. The initial aim is to make training grounds and facilities up and down the country some of the safest places to work.
Footballers, along with every other elite sportsperson, will be briefed as to how their work environment is going to become a safe, hygienic space, while also ensuring that their families can be confident through strict testing and control measures.
The work to get the guidance given the green light by government has been frantic as certain deadlines loom, including the Secretary of State Oliver Dowden meeting with the football authorities on Thursday.
It's imperative for that meeting to conclude that football can return to training to have this Government document signed off and understood. It's done as it has a huge amount of preparation and due diligence within the Premier League, for example.
So, in practical terms, elite sportsmen and women can return to training right away, given the relevant risk assessments have been done. They can do so to undertake individual programmes or train with others while maintaining the current social distancing rules which apply to the rest of us as well.
So can a group of footballers pass a ball to one another? No, but if you interpret the new rules on exercise, one footballer could pass a ball to just one other as long as it was just those two involved. Let's remember the words of the Prime Minister: "Baby steps…"
Step 2 of the guidance is the part where professionals can actually start to get match-fit. As yet, no date when Step 2 will be allowed. It's down to how the UK as a whole gets on with the gentle easing of lockdown rules as to when the next step will be given the go-ahead from government.
If Step 2 is allowed it will be a good point at which to judge how the COVID-19 infection rate is faring under the new lockdown measures as contact will be allowed, so footballers can tackle one another in proper training scenarios, while boxers can start to spar with each other in the ring.
There are many, many points of guidance on medical provision, health, hygiene in this document. It's described as the 'bare minimum' to allow sport to return to training while a senior figure involved in drafting the guidelines makes clear that "no athlete is under any obligation to return to training" if they are uncomfortable.
Just legally how such a promise can be made is unclear, but it's a statement designed to bring confidence to those less sure about returning to a training environment that their concerns have been listened to and catered for. Athlete welfare is the number one priority, we're told.
So baby steps it is for now before contact training can be allowed and who knows that giant leap towards the return of live sport.