Non-elite clubs cleared for FA Cup but golf courses and tennis courts to shut

The Government has cleared non-elite football clubs to compete in the FA Cup this weekend despite new lockdown restrictions, but has resisted calls to keep golf courses and tennis courts open.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out the terms for a second national lockdown over the weekend amid fears that a second wave of coronavirus cases would otherwise overwhelm the NHS this winter.

Grassroots sport will be forced to stop during the initial month-long period which starts on Thursday, placing a question mark on whether FA Cup first-round ties involving 10 non-elite clubs could go ahead.

However, the Football Association said on Monday that the matches would go ahead under elite protocols.

“We can confirm that all Emirates FA Cup first-round ties will go ahead this weekend as planned,” a statement from the governing body read.

“The UK Government has confirmed that the 10 non-elite clubs that remain in the competition will be able to play their matches under elite protocols.

“Matches will take place between November 6 and 9 2020. All ties will be played behind closed doors, in line with COVID-19 guidelines.”

The FA confirmed the draws for the next rounds of the FA Trophy and FA Vase have also taken place, but no dates have been fixed.

“We remain in dialogue with the UK Government in relation to men’s ‘non-elite’ football in England and will release the fixture dates for both the Trophy and the Vase in due course,” a further FA update read.

There had been calls from the chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee Julian Knight for a rethink on the closure of golf courses and tennis clubs, but the Government is sticking to its plans.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said on Monday that guidance sets out that individuals can exercise in a public space with one other person or with someone from their own household.

“It’s not the intention, however, for tennis courts or for golf courses to remain open,” he said.

Pressed why the Government is shutting them, he said: “People are able to use public spaces or walk or run in the park.

“The purpose of the tougher regulations, which I expect are going to be difficult for very many people, are to significantly reduce social contact.”

Earlier Knight told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “A blanket ban is not the correct way of going about things.

“Perhaps there needs to be some reflection on the work that was done in the spring by these institutions. I know one golf club for instance that spent £5,000 on sanitising, I know another one that tested staff at a cost of £400 a week.

“Don’t forget many of these courses are related to hotels and there they have had a real problem haven’t they, because they have been unable to really open at any sort of capacity for most of the pandemic.”

Knight told the Today programme on Monday morning: “There are health benefits, both physical and mental. These sports are uniquely built for social distancing. They opened safely in the spring in a limited way.

“We need to acknowledge the enormous expense and efforts from both these sports in order to make them Covid-secure.”

The Government will order indoor and outdoor leisure and sports facilities including gyms, swimming pools, golf courses and driving ranges, climbing walls and climbing centres and archery and shooting ranges to close from Thursday.

Jane Nickerson, the chief executive of Swim England, said it was a “horrendous” situation and fears further facilities may never reopen.

“We’ve proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that indoor leisure and swimming pools have a very low transmission of this virus and are safe places for people to go and exercise,” she told the PA news agency.

“To just slam the door shut again now, my concern is that many pools won’t reopen and certainly I believe a lot won’t reopen now before Christmas. We’ve lost 200 swimming pools already following the first lockdown, I think an awful lot more can follow suit.

“We know that swimming is immensely valuable to the health of the nation. Our Value of Swimming report we launched last year showed that we save the NHS and social care system £357million a year on just six different conditions. And people who can’t exercise on land and can exercise in water, we’re just slamming the door on them.”