The culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, has outlined the strict conditions for competitive sport to resume safely behind closed doors in England from Monday 1 June, paving the way for the first domestic live action in almost three months. The news allows the Premier League to go ahead with its plans to restart playing on Wednesday 17 June, while horse racing will resume on Monday at Newcastle with a 10-race card. The first major event will be Saturday’s 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket, while snooker will also resume this week.
The statement from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said the guidelines had “been developed in close consultation with the deputy chief medical officers of England, Public Health England and medical representatives across Olympic, Paralympic and professional sports governing bodies. The guidance, designed for competition delivery partners and elite sport organisations, outlines the facilities and processes that will need to be in place, including that there will be no spectators at events.”
The detailed conditions included screening before competitors enter venues, one-way systems for movement of people and vehicles, physical distancing at all times including in celebrations, and the use of personal protective equipment by medical staff.
The conditions must be met and the announcement did not apply to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, but Dowden said: “The wait is over. Live British sport will shortly be back on in safe and carefully controlled environments. 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. This is a significant moment for British sport. By working with clinicians every step of the way, we are creating the safest possible environments for everyone involved.”
The Premier League’s chief executive, Richard Masters, said: “The Premier League welcomes the government’s announcement … There is still much work to be done to ensure the safety of everyone involved. This includes consulting with our clubs, players and managers – along with all our other stakeholders – as the health and welfare of our participants and supporters is our priority. If all goes well, we will be thrilled to resume the 2019-20 season in just over two weeks’ time.”
Frankie Dettori was among the first in racing to welcome the government’s announcement. “It’s fantastic news,” said the veteran jockey, who believes his sport is now well placed to hog the limelight for a short time. “We’ve got two weeks’ start on football, the whole country’s starved of sport and racing in this country is of the highest quality. People will be able to enjoy our sport on the box and I have no doubt we can put on a good show for everyone.”
The resumption at Newcastle was so over-subscribed that 198 entrants had to be turned away. Dettori will make his own return to action at Kempton the next day but is already looking forward to Friday at Newmarket, when he will ride Stradivarius in the Coronation Cup, taking on last year’s Derby winner, Anthony Van Dyck. It is one of 21 races due to be screened by ITV next weekend.
“It’s like, wow,” said Dettori, relishing the imminence of such quality racing. “Great horses are ready to go. If everything goes smooth, we’ll be able to catch up on the Classics and by the end of July the programme of horse racing will be back to normal.”
The lobbying methods and public pronouncements of racing’s ruling body, the British Horseracing Authority, have been criticised at times but Dettori was happy to give them credit. “We put a great proposal to the government. The BHA and the horsemen have worked tirelessly. We’re going to be taking precautions on top of precautions.
“I’ve been riding out with a mask on, to get used to it. I’ve been talking to my French colleagues, they told me it’s a little bit of a hindrance, it’s stopping your air-flow, but I’m getting my body used to it and I have no problem at all.”
Asked if the news was a relief, Dettori said: “I think more for my wife and kids, they’ll be happy to see the back of me, to be honest. We are arguing about stupid things at the moment, who did not empty the dishwasher, who took the last ice cream. I’m getting the sign that it’s about time for me to leave the house and go to work.”
While English sport is now resuming, there was a reminder that opinion remains divided within the UK, as Professor Jason Leitch, a health official with the Scottish government, stressed that the proposed 1 August restart of the competitive football north of the border was only a target. He said: “I’m not sure people should write 1 August on their calendars quite yet. There’s a long way to go before 1 August … Don’t get overexcited.”