Sports

The new rules on exercise in Wales, why you can’t play golf and why kids still can’t play sports

The Welsh Government has moved to allow up to four people from two households to meet up for local exercise from Saturday, February 20 – but activities such as golf and tennis remain off limits.

The tweak to exercise rules is a slight easement on restrictions, which currently allow two people from two households to meet locally outdoors for exercise while social distancing.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said on Friday: “From [Saturday], we will change the rules to allow up to four people from two different households to exercise outdoors together, helping people who have been struggling with lockdown.

“[The new rules] do not mean you can now drive somewhere to exercise and it does not mean socialising.”

The four-person limit does not include children aged under 11.

Why can’t I drive for exercise in Wales?

The stay-at-home measures remain in place, but Mr Drakeford said he hopes this next three-week period will be the last for such measures.

The current rules mean exercise must remain local, and start and end at the front door – meaning people should not drive for exercise.

Mr Drakeford explained that the reason why the Welsh Government is not permitting people to travel in their cars for exercise is because of fears people would flock to beauty spots.

“You will remember all the scenes we saw, not that long ago, of what happens at beauty spots, when people think that that option is open to them. We get large congregations of people in relatively confined spaces with all the risks that that brings.

“Now, if you are someone with a disability, or if the only way you can get exercise is by travelling in your car to somewhere suitable, then that is allowed within the rules.

“But for people who don’t face those barriers, for now, it is a matter of exercising from your own front door and returning to it. I hope, with all the ifs that I always have to emphasise, that this may be the last three weeks of the stay at home restrictions, because we would all like to be able to do more than we are doing now. But while we continue to see further progress necessary then three weeks more of staying at home will have to be the rule for us all.”

When can children return to sport?

Mr Drakeford said he is very keen to allow children to resume outdoor exercise and activity as soon as he can, but after they return to school.

The Welsh Government has said the youngest learners can start to return to school from February 22 and more older learners could return from March 15.

While elite sportspeople can continue to compete and train in Wales under alert level four restrictions, children are unable to exercise or play sport with more than one other household under the current rules.

When asked whether it was time to end the idea that sport is reserved only for the elite, Mr Drakeford said: “I’m very keen to be able to allow children, particularly, to resume outdoor exercise and activity.

“Our top priority for the moment is getting children back into school. And we will have to carefully – that’s what we have agreed with our local education authorities and teaching unions – we will have to carefully observe the evidence of what that does to the transmission of disease.

“But if we can have a successful return to school as I hope we will and we work very hard – everybody has worked very hard to create the conditions for that – then beyond that I am very keen indeed, to allow those young people to do more in the outdoors in the way that was possible earlier last year.”

Why can’t I play golf or tennis?

The restriction on driving for exercise has a major impact on those wishing to play golf or tennis. This is not permitted for at least the next three weeks, with the next Welsh Government lockdown review will take place on March 11.

Mr Drakeford said: “I’m very familiar with the long list of activities that people write to us about – why not tennis, why not golf, why not fishing, why not pigeon racing? It’s a long list.

“The problem is, every activity you add gives the virus another opportunity to circulate. And the more you add incrementally by themselves, they may hardly seem to add anything.

“But everything adds something, and by the time you’ve added them all up, you find the virus is thriving and getting away from us again. That’s what I keep trying to explain to people. It’s the cumulative effect of all these things we have to be aware of. Not just the single strands.”

However, the boss of Wales Golf – the sport’s governing body – believes the sport can be played safely and in a socially distanced manner.

A statement from Golf Wales after the exercise update said the governing body was “disappointed” the ‘stay at home’ regulations were not relaxed, saying the Welsh Government had agreed that golf “can be played in a safe, socially distanced manner” but was concerned about wider impacts of relaxing measures.

“We hope that golf and other outdoor sports will be able to return in some capacity following the next review on March 12,” it said.

“At a meeting with Welsh Government officials earlier this week, we presented the APPGG COVID-19 Secure Golf Document which supports our long-held view that golf has been and can continue to be played safely during the current pandemic. Other key areas of discussion centred around the numerous mental health and wellbeing benefits golf provides to tens of thousands of participants across Wales.

“Welsh Government agreed that golf is a sport that can be played in a safe, socially distanced manner. Their main concerns were with the potential Wales-wide impact of relaxing the ‘stay at home’ restrictions, and the cumulative impact of doing this.”

Golf Wales CEO Richard Dixon added: “I would like to thank all our Welsh Clubs for the excellent work you have been doing in helping to keep our sport, golfers and communities safe. By continuing this effort, we will put golf in a strong position to return as soon as it is safe to do so.

“Wales Golf feels there is a strong case for golf courses to remain open alongside public parks and playgrounds under Tier 4 restrictions and continues to work with the Welsh Government to make this point.

“We totally understand the wider concerns, but golf is a sport that can be played safely outdoors while providing exercise. The whole golf industry has adapted to the restrictions imposed to ensure people’s safety, developed significant operational experience and established Covid secure practices, including rule changes and other mitigation measures that meet the ‘hands, face, space’ directive.

“The health and wellbeing benefits of playing golf are well documented in scientific studies. Leaders in public health, public policy and sport from across the globe recognise that golf tackles physical inactivity and contributes to the prevention of a range of non-communicable diseases. Combining the undeniable benefits golf offers to a significant proportion of the country, and the steps taken that ensure golf is a sport that can be played safely, it is ideally placed to be able to be played safely under lockdown restrictions.

“Our colleagues in the golf industry around the UK are also united in pushing these messages. We want to assure golfers in Wales we are representing them at the highest levels.”

When could gyms re-open in Wales?

The next review of restrictions will be on March 11, and gyms will not be part of that review. So gyms aren’t likely to re-open for another six weeks.

Asked why there had been no mention of gyms re-opening, given Eluned Morgan (mental health minister) had recently suggested they would be among the first things to be considered for reopening, Mr Drakeford pointed to fresh guidance.

“Since Eluned pointed to the mental health advantage of people being able to use gyms, we’ve now had this further advice from our Technical Advisory Group.

“Their anxiety is that the Kent variant, which is so much more transmissible, so much more infectious than the original form of coronavirus, that that may make gyms particularly vulnerable to being places where the virus is spread. So I don’t anticipate that we will see gyms reopening, certainly not in the next three weeks.

“But the evidence will accumulate over the weeks ahead as we gradually allow more things to happen. Whether or not allowing people to get together with the new Kent variant will lead to the virus coming back at a very quick rate. If it doesn’t, then the Technical Advisory Group will revisit its advice and we will see what might be able to be done. You know, I acknowledge everything that Eluned said about exercise, leisure centres, gyms.

“It isn’t just physical fitness, it’s mental wellbeing, as well. At the moment, the advice is we must be precautionary, and we mustn’t put that at the front of the queue, and therefore we will not be able to do that until better evidence emerges.”

...

ALSO READ  Scarlets v Benetton team news: Outstanding Welsh youngster returns as Jake Ball and Ryan Elias also feature
Tags

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button
Close