Sporting bodies have been left “devastated” and “frustrated” after the government did not include a return to indoor activities in the latest relaxation of coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced pubs, restaurants, hotels and hairdressers can open from 4 July in England – but made no mention of indoor sports activities.
Badminton England chief executive Adrian Christy called it a “mystifying decision”, adding that the omission was an “almighty kick in the teeth to grassroots indoor sports participants”.
British Gymnastics said the government is “massively letting the sports community down”.
Facilities such as indoor swimming pools and gymnasiums have been closed since the lockdown came into effect on 23 March, although elite athletes have been able to make a controlled return to indoor sporting environments.
In an open letter, accompanied by a link to petition local MPs, Christy accused the government of backtracking on its own plans relating to indoor venues after his organisation had worked with Whitehall officials in order to prepare for reopening.
“The reopening of indoor sports facilities from 4 July has been on the government’s roadmap for several weeks now,” he said.
“Yet the government has seemingly caved in to pressure to allow pubs and restaurants to open while keeping the doors locked on the millions of people who want to play indoor sport, use a gym or a pool.
“Throughout the period of drafting the return to play guidance with government there has been no hint whatsoever that this announcement was even a possibility.
“The decision is not just a sport matter but risks the nation lurching from one health crisis to another.”
Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said on social media that the government hoped to “reopen gyms & leisure facilities in mid-July”.
He added: “We’ve made lots of progress and I know steps businesses have taken to make their spaces and equipment safe.”
Swim England’s chief executive Jane Nickerson described “dismay and frustration” over the lack of change and called for the government to amend the new list of permitted activities, as she underlined the benefits that her sport plays in the health of the population.
“Many will fail to understand how pubs, restaurants, cinemas, museums and hair salons have been given the go-ahead to open on the 4 July but not chlorine-filled swimming pools,” she said.
“I share their frustrations and demand that the government hastily reconsiders this decision to ignore what is a lifeline to so many.
“It appears that it is OK to sit on the couch watching professional sport, go out for a high calorie meal and then go to the pub, but you can’t go for a swim, which provides a sanitised environment.”
Jane Allen, British Gymnastics chief executive, said her member clubs around the country were already in a position to practise their sport safely.
“Gymnastics activity can be delivered safely, and we call on the government to allow this to happen now,” said Allen.
“Our member clubs have been preparing to deliver gymnastics in a Covid safe environment and they are going to be crucial in helping children re-socialise and in the revitalisation of communities.
“Many children are missing school. They are missing their friends. Community gymnastics this summer is a vital way to help children remain active and connected.”
Huw Edwards, chief executive of UK Active, a non-profit industry association representing gyms and leisure centres, said they have estimated that up to 2,800 facilities and 100,000 jobs could be lost from communities across the country.
“Crucially, these are facilities that communities the length of the country depend upon, from the youngest to the oldest,” Edwards said. “Their potential loss could be catastrophic for local communities and catastrophic in the fight against Covid-19.”
Sport England chair Nick Bitel says the body is working closely with the government and sporting bodies to try to open up indoor sports as soon as possible.
“The sport and physical activity sector has been working incredibly hard preparing to reopen leisure, fitness and sports centres, with painstaking measures in place to ensure venues meet public health guidelines,” he said.
“We understand that difficult choices need to be made as the country exits lockdown, and while it is disappointing for the sector that no specific date has been given for the reopening of facilities today, we will continue to work closely with government to ensure this happens as soon as possible, ideally within the coming weeks, an ambition we know is shared by government.”
An LTA Spokesperson said: ‘We’ve seen a lot of people take advantage of the opportunity to play tennis outdoors over the past few weeks, so it is disappointing that indoor courts will not be able to open yet, and we will continue to make the case to Government for them to open as soon as possible.’