Lockdown on Thursday calls for tennis to be put on hold once again at a recreational level, prompting outrage from avid players who believe the game to be socially distanced and have called for an exemption through a well supported online petition and a barrage of letters to local MPs.
Tennis is a safe, socially distant sport with the net acting as a natural barrier, and as such there is very low risk in terms of transmission of the virus. We believe if adults are allowed to meet someone else from their household for a socially distanced walk or conversation, they should be able to play tennis against each other from either side of a net. Scott Lloyd, CEO, Lawn Tennis Association
The LTA, too, has called on the Government to allow outdoor tennis to continue given the new guidance around exercise and recreation, as well as calling for a sports recovery fund.
“These measures will once again present huge challenges for tennis venues, coaches and players up and down the country who, like many others, will have already had an incredibly hard year,” LTA Chief Executive Scott Lloyd said in a statement.
“Tennis is a safe, socially distant sport with the net acting as a natural barrier, and as such there is very low risk in terms of transmission of the virus.
“We believe if adults are allowed to meet someone else from their household for a socially distanced walk or conversation, they should be able to play tennis against each other from either side of a net.
“Keeping people as active as possible can play a key role in how we tackle the coronavirus.
“The next few weeks are undoubtedly going to be difficult for many people across the country and so the more we can do to maintain access to sport and encourage healthy lifestyles the better.”
Hopes were raised when Michael Gove indicated on Monday that both tennis and golf might be given an exemption, but these were quickly dashed when Robert Jenrick confirmed on BBC Breakfast on Tuesday morning that singles play will not be allowed from 5 November when the second national lockdown begins.
Gove then issued a hasty apology on Twitter after getting the government guidance wrong.
Downing Street insisted it will not change direction over the decision to close golf courses and tennis clubs when new measures are introduced from Thursday, but during an online question and answer session with his constituents on Monday, the MP for Surrey Heath sparked confusion when he suggested it would be possible to play singles tennis.
“The key thing here, I think, is that you will probably be able to continue to play singles tennis at the moment,” he said, before backtracking.
“You’ll probably be able to play singles tennis…we are looking at allowing people to play golf with 1 other… We are looking at it.”
Asked if doubles tennis can continue, The Cabinet Office Minister added: “The key thing here, I think, is that you will probably be able to continue to play singles tennis at the moment.
“The guidance that we have is that if people are appropriately socially distanced, they can take exercise with one other person. That’s why I mentioned golf earlier.
“Golf clubs, club houses, they will have to be closed, but we are looking at allowing people to play on golf courses with one other appropriately distanced.”
On Tuesday morning, Gove apologised for the comments on Twitter, including a link to the Government guidance.
“My apologies, I got this wrong,” he said. “Outdoor leisure facilities including tennis courts and golf courses will be closed from Thursday.”
As a result, tennis courts will be closed to the public when the new coronavirus lockdown restrictions are enforced, meaning amateurs will not be allowed to play the sport until further notice.
The easing of restriction on 13 May allowed the sport to resume after the initial lockdown period, with outdoor courts the first to reopen before indoor courts were permitted to be used.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Saturday that the new restrictions are necessary due to the rapidly growing number of coronavirus deaths and cases, which surpassed one million at the weekend.
Leisure centres, gyms and sports facilities, including swimming pools and tennis courts, have been ordered to close their doors from Thursday, and will not be open again until 2 December at the earliest due to the four-week lockdown.
It means you cannot play tennis for the next month even with people in your household, which virtually rules all forms of recreational tennis not allowed until the restrictions have been eased.
The only tennis that will be allowed to go ahead is at elite level, with the Nitto ATP Finals in London set to go ahead behind closed doors between 15-22 November at the O2 Arena.
Under the restrictions announced by Johnson, individuals are ‘encouraged to go outside for exercise’ and are also allowed to meet with one person from another household as long as social distancing is maintained.
Discussions continue to take place between the government, Public Health England and the LTA about the prospect of tennis being allowed to take place during the second lockdown period, but so far there has been little traction as any U-turn on allowing outdoor sports such as tennis and golf to continue during this second lockdown has effectively been ruled out.
“I must apologise to my honourable friend for not being able to offer the house a huge list of exemptions to the rules we’ve set out,” Johnson said after delivering a statement to the House of Commons on Monday afternoon.
“Because once you unpick at one thing, alas, the effectiveness of the whole package is compromised.
“That’s why I want everyone to work together for the next four weeks to get the R rate under control so that we can open things up again in time for December.”
Meanwhile Sport and Recreation Alliance CEO Lisa Wainwright has emphasised that sport is so important to every community and more needs to be done.
The Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee, Julian Knight, was also among those calling for tennis courts and golf courses to be allowed to stay open.
Former DCMS committee chair Damian Collins is among a group of MPs who have called on the Government to allow under-18s to continue participating in outdoor grassroots sport, including team sports such as football, when the new measures take effect.
In a letter to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, the MPs wrote: “Young people will currently be allowed to continue with sport at school, and we believe that the risks to the spread of coronavirus from outdoor grassroots youth sport would be minimal.
“There would however be clear and lasting benefits for these young people if the Government could support this.”