Coronavirus: Junior sport ‘under major threat’ in Wales – BBC News

Newport under-13 girlsImage copyright Newport Cricket Club
Image caption Newport under-13 girls receive the UK champions trophy from former England player Mike Gatting at Lords in 2013

Junior sport is “under major threat” in Wales, with players facing the possibility of no matches this winter.

Newport cricket club’s junior section may not play or train for a year, with coach Mike Knight calling this “catastrophic”.

Youngsters cannot play football and rugby in the same way, with one coach worried they will drift away.

Sport Wales has said creative solutions are needed as we “reimagine” how children participate.

Newport has been a hotbed of junior cricket, producing five UK champion teams in 15 years and a string of Glamorgan players.

However, Mr Knight said it has been hit by a coronavirus “double whammy” which puts a huge question mark over the future of the section.

The club lost £40,000 in income this summer, which meant it had to launch a Crowdfunding page to raise £10,000 that would allow 200 six to 17-year-olds to train through the winter.

It was getting close to the target, with more than 100 people pledging £7,600 in total when officials were told they could no longer use the tennis centre at the city’s International Sports Village. They have been using it for the past 20 years.

Image copyright Newport Cricket Club
Image caption The club’s under-15 girls side were UK champions in 2014

Because of social distancing rules, gymnasium equipment has had to be moved in there.

“This creates a massive problem. In many ways, it’s easier to recover from the actual season being cancelled than the winter programme,” Mr Knight added.

“Will they just turn up for a summer season or be lost to cricket?”

Image copyright Newport Cricket Club
Image caption County Championship cricket returned to Newport after an absence of 54 years with Glamorgan playing Gloucestershire at Spytty Park in 2019

The actual adult season is relatively short, running between May and September, but juniors play for three months.

It is the winter nets, running over nine months, where they practice indoors and hone their skills so they are properly prepared.

In the past 15 years, Newport has won UK championships five times – twice for its under-13 boys, once each for its under-13 and under-15 girls and once for the women’s side.

The section has also produced a string of Glamorgan players, most recently Ian Thomas, Huw Waters and Callum Taylor.

Image copyright Newport Cricket Club
Image caption In 2010, the under-13 side received the UK champions trophy from former England batsman Nasser Hussain

There is a facility in Ebbw Vale, Blaenau Gwent, that could be used, but Mr Knight described it as a “40 mile round trip for some parents” and he does not know if many would be able to make it.

The club also owns a disused squash court at Spytty which could potentially be converted in the future, but carrying out feasibility studies and financing it means it cannot be used this year.

“Cricket in the area is under major threat of dying,” Mr Knight said.

“Youngsters have come to us and 10 years later have been a Glamorgan player. But we are not going to be able to produce players like we used to.

“Exams begin in June and then summer. If there is nothing in winter, would you bother playing? The standard (with no coaching) would be awful.”

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Junior footballers have to follow rules when they train

Junior football and rugby coaches are also concerned – with youngsters able to train but they have to follow rules around social distancing.

Gethyn Owen runs the under-9s side at Penrhosgarnedd juniors, Bangor, and said players are becoming frustrated by just going through drills.

He is worried some of the 100 children or parents will start to consider if they should continue.

They play five against five, as opposed to 11 against 11 for adults, and Mr Owen said: “Rules could be introduced for juniors – some policies make more sense than others.

“They are enjoying training, but getting a bit frustrated with nothing to aim for.”

‘Creative solutions’

Sport Wales said it is as important as ever children have the opportunity to take part in sport, but this must be in a different manner with safety at the forefront of thinking.

“We are working with our national governing body partners to find creative solutions and reimagine how sport can be delivered in a bid to stop any drop-off in participation, especially among youngsters and from groups where we know there are traditionally greater barriers to accessing sport,” said a spokeswoman.

With winter coming, she said this may include “temporary or innovative locations” and changes and adaptations to how games are played.

She said: “Things will look different, and there will be obstacles to overcome but it also presents an opportunity for us to change things potentially for the long-term better.”

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