How badminton and netball plan to return after next round of easing lockdown in July

Jeremy Wilson
England badminton player Gail Emms during a training session at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre, Melbourne, Australia - Gareth Copley/PA

Mass participation sports like badminton and netball, which are widely played inside leisure centres, are drafting proposals to potentially return indoors next month.

With indoor sports facilities part of the next possible phase of easing lockdown restrictions from July 4, the Sport and Recreation Alliance has been working with governing bodies to identify ways in which their sports could be modified and still maintain social distancing.

For team sports, this has often meant going back to the principles of how you might adapt a sport for young children so that you reduce both numbers and contact.

Netball, for example, is exploring versions of the sport that would involve reduced numbers before potentially returning to the full seven-a-side game later this year. Variations of indoor tag-rugby are also being considered.

Badminton has produced its own document for how it could return, which would involve socially-distanced singles, one-to-one coaching and using only your own racket. Additional advice is being sought from Public Health England on how shuttles might be shared, but it has been suggested that participants could share a box to no more than eight players and then rotate singles games while not moving the shuttles outside each group.

The cost so far to Badminton England of the coronavirus lockdown has been estimated at £1 million, of which around a quarter relates to the National Badminton Centre in Milton Keynes which generates substantial income through its on-site hotel. Around 50 per cent of England Netball’s operating income is also currently at risk and the decision was taken last week to cancel the elite level Superleague.

Current government guidance for sport does allow groups of up to six people from different households to exercise together outdoors, providing social distancing is respected but, for some sports, their income will be largely dependent on resuming some indoor activity.

There are five million people, for example, that participate usually in movement and dance classes and around 100,000 self-employed sports coaches or instructors.

Lisa Wainwright, the chief executive of the Sport and Recreation Alliance, said that sports were “all drafting return to play and compete guidance” but that there were even very localised issues to navigate. Whether identical equestrian stables are considered to be indoor or outdoors facilities, for example, can differ depending on the local authority.

Contact sports are far less likely to come back at a recreational level in the next phase of lockdown changes but there is a hope that those activities which could be played indoors in isolation, on opposite sides of a net or by using targets, could come back next month. Swim England is also working on guidance to help the aquatics centre prepare for the potential reopening of pools.

A survey by the Sport and Recreation Alliance found that members were reporting, on average, that 40 per cent of their income was at risk. This included one sport that said it was running on reserves which would be used up this month. Sports which have become increasingly self-sufficient, and are therefore more reliant on events and membership income instead of public funding, have generally been hardest hit. Sport England had more than 8,000 submissions to its £35 million Community Emergency Fund, but that has now closed. Individual governing bodies have also created various emergency funds for grassroots clubs.

The key for many indoor sports will be when gyms and leisure centres can reopen. The sector is collectively planning to open “showroom sites” this month in an attempt to reassure government, health agencies and their users that they are safe to formally reopen this summer. The proposals, which have been formulated by UKactive in consultation with gyms and leisure centre from both the public and private sector, would mean no towels to be brought onto the gym floor, two metre distancing of equipment and reductions in numbers so that there was only one gym or pool user for every three square metres.