The government has given its approval for professional sportsmen and women to resume training with immediate effect – but also promised athletes they will not be punished if they do not feel it is safe to come back yet.
Under the new guidelines all elite athletes who are keen to return will have to undergo “a 1:1 check-in” with a medical expert – where the risks of Covid-19 are set out and their health checked – before going back to their clubs or high-performance centres.
Athletes will also have to formally “opt in” to a return to training – which for now will be done individually and with social distancing measures in place.
The guidelines also set out a second stage in the process, when elite athletes will be allowed to tackle and spar again. However, government sources stressed to the Guardian that this next step will come into effect only when Public Health England and medical experts say it is safe to do so.
Crucially, the guidelines also make it clear that athletes and staff worried about the potential health effects of training during the Covid-19 pandemic must have a clear route to “opt out” of the organised training environment “at any time without unreasonable steps being taken against them consequently”.
The news of a return to training was welcomed by the secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden, who said it was a significant step towards a safe resumption of live sport behind closed doors.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Meanwhile the UK Sport chief executive, Sally Munday, who led the working group that established the guidelines, insisted that athletes should return only if they felt it was safe to do so.
“The choice to return to training is also a personal one,” Munday said. “Every sport is different and everyone’s personal circumstances are different and whilst clearly there are many who are keen to return to training as soon as possible, there are those who will have genuine concerns or personal circumstances that make this challenging. As always, we are urging all sports to continue to make the welfare of athletes and staff their number one priority.”
Under the new rules each club and sport will have to name a Covid-19 officer responsible for oversight of risk assessments that each sport will have to make.
“It is important to note that the publication of this guidance does not mean that all Olympic and Paralympic sports and athletes should return to training straight away,” Munday said. “Each sport will need to make a risk assessment against the guidance and determine what is best for both their athletes and staff.”