Elite athletes given government guidance on safe return to training during coronavirus

By Laura ScottBBC Sport
football training ground
Training facilities will need to be deep-cleaned and equipment disinfected

Elite athletes will now be able to return to group training, provided social distancing is maintained and safety requirements met, in what the government has called a "milestone" on the road to sport's return.

No contact between athletes will be permitted at this stage, venues will need deep-cleaning and training equipment will need to be "suitably cleaned and disinfected".

Guidance on the steps required for training to take place amid the current phase of the coronavirus pandemic was developed with input from Olympic and Paralympic sports, professional sports and athletes, and has been published by the government.

It says athletes and support staff must actively "opt in" before returning to training, and screening for coronavirus will involve temperature checks as a minimum.

If athletes opt out at any time, the guidance says they must be able to do so "without unreasonable steps being taken against them consequently".

The next phase will involve some "social clustering" within training, with athletes able to engage in contact such as "close quarters coaching, combat sports sparring, teams sports tackling, equipment sharing".

However, the protocols for this stage have not yet been finalised and will need government approval.

The guidance comes as the Premier League begins consultations with players, managers, the Professional Footballers' Association and the League Managers' Association before a planned resumption in training next week.

However, the Rugby Football Union responded by saying the announcement was "welcome" but that there was "significant work to do before any kind of training can resume" in rugby's Premiership.

UK Sport developed the guidance with the government and representatives of professional sports.

Its chief executive Sally Munday says the organisation "fully expects different sports will return to training at different times" and urged sports to ensure the welfare of athletes and staff was their "number one priority".

She added there would be some people with "genuine concerns or personal circumstances that make this challenging".

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden said: "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. 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 risk assessments that sports and independent venues will need to carry out include "outlining how regular screening for Covid-19 symptoms will take place before each entry to the training environment". Screening should include a questionnaire and temperature check as a minimum, the guidance adds.

It also says providers must outline "how equipment being brought into the training venue will be suitably cleaned and disinfected".

Venues must also be "deep cleaned" before training can start.

Munday said: "We are asking all sports to work through the guidance carefully, to give confidence to both athletes and support staff that they can 'opt in' to any return to training safely.

"Ultimately the decision on when to return to organised training must be taken by each sport, in conjunction with relevant training facility providers, understanding all of the complexities and intricacies of individual sports."