Covid: Welsh professional sport to continue during circuit-breaker lockdown

Wales' rugby union game with France in Paris on Saturday is set to go ahead as planned
Wales' rugby union game with France in Paris on Saturday is set to go ahead as planned

Wales' professional athletes will be allowed to continue competing and training in the "firebreak" lockdown, along with professional sports teams.

Welsh Government guidelines initially required elite athletes in sports such as boxing, gymnastics, judo, swimming and athletics in Wales to lockdown.

A clarification on Wednesday cleared Olympic and Paralympic athletes.

Those "who are full-time and funded by the National Lottery can be considered as professionals who are working".

The lockdown measure announced on Monday is designed to provide a circuit-breaker to the spread of Covid-19.

It will run from Friday, 23 October until Monday, 9 November.

The Welsh Government clarification continued: "They [professional sportspeople] will have a reasonable excuse to leave home to travel to train, to compete and to access facilities.

"The regulations will allow a local authority or the Welsh Government to give permission for premises to open to provide facilities for those athletes during the firebreak period, as they will be required to remain closed to the general public.

"It is hoped Sport Wales can continue its role in defining and overseeing that cohort of professional athletes to ensure the access is available and strict protocols are followed."

A Sport Wales spokesperson said: "We welcome the confirmation from Welsh Government that full-time National Lottery funded athletes who are training for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics can continue to train during the firebreak and would like to thank officials for listening to feedback from National Governing Bodies and athletes in recent days.

"We will now work at pace with partners to determine how best to support this small number of athletes during this period."

The news will be a huge relief to Wales' leading sportspeople, who would have seen their preparations for next year's Tokyo Olympics and the 2022 Commonwealth Games further disrupted.

Natalie Powell, who won Commonwealth gold for Wales in judo in 2014, had already told BBC Sport Wales the toll that being in lockdown would have taken on her training, as she prepares for the European Championships in November.

Wales' leading professional sports teams were already allowed to continue playing despite the country entering into a national "firebreak" lockdown.

Monday's Welsh Government statement had said: "Sportspeople who work and earn a living through sport are allowed to continue working.

"Fixtures involving professional sportspeople are allowed to continue behind closed doors. All participants, such as players, officials, coaches, and broadcasters, are there in a working capacity.

"Like everyone else they can leave home to do so if they cannot work from home.

"However, the elite programme, overseen by Sport Wales, will be suspended during this circuit breaker period."

That means Wales' rugby union Tests in Paris this Saturday and at home against Scotland in Llanelli a week later on 31 October, plus the Pro14 games involving Cardiff Blues, Dragons, Ospreys and Scarlets will go ahead.

Wales women's remaining home Six Nations match against Scotland on 1 November will also be played as scheduled.

Likewise, Cardiff City, Swansea City, Newport County and Wrexham who play in the English Football League and the National League can fulfil their fixtures.

The women's national football team's European qualifying matches against Faroe Islands on Thursday, at Newport's Rodney Parade, and Norway on 27 October at Cardiff City Stadium can also go ahead.

The domestic Cymru Premier comes under the Sport Wales elite programme and has seen the majority of its football fixtures postponed, although games between fully professional teams The New Saints, Connah's Quay, Bala and Haverfordwest meet the Welsh Government's criteria and can be played.

The Welsh Premier Women's League, which is largely amateur, has been suspended until lockdown ends.

The league was won last year by Swansea City Ladies, who face the possibility of being thrown out of the Women's Champions League if they are unable to play during the lockdown.

The team are scheduled to play their Champions League tie on 3 or 4 November against opponents who will be revealed in Thursday's draw, but governing body Uefa needs to know by midnight on Friday if there is any reason clubs cannot fulfil fixtures.

It is understood the Football Association of Wales has written to the Welsh Government asking for special dispensation so the game can go ahead, while BBC Sport Wales has also asked the Welsh Government for clarification on the tie's status.

Golf and tennis clubs, plus swimming pools and leisure centres will also be required to close during the period of the lockdown.

All community, amateur sport and training is to be suspended during the fire-break lockdown.