There is anger and disappointment in the ranks as recreational tennis shuts down in England on Day 1 of the second lockdown, and amateur players across the country have been expressing annoyance over the decision in every way they can.
Despite the strong case we, and many of you, have put forward to Government, we are sorry to confirm that the new restrictions being introduced from tomorrow mean you will not be allowed to play tennis in England for the duration of the national lockdown. Scott Lloyd, CEO, Lawn Tennis Association
It is not only tennis that is annoyed, but the whole sport and physical activity sector that has mounted a challenge to Government over the shut down from today, Thursday 5 November.
The industry body, ukactive, is calling for gyms and leisure centres to be classed as an ‘essential service’ and mobilised its members to send letters to individual Members of Parliament asking them to support the motion at a crucial vote in Parliament on Wednesday.
Many tennis players did the same, but Lockdown 2 was approved without amendment and so it is now the law for all clubs to shut their doors and lock up their courts.
The LTA is at the forefront of the complaint, with CEO Scott Lloyd expressing his disappointment after efforts to keep tennis clubs open failed.
“Despite the strong case we, and many of you, have put forward to Government, we are sorry to confirm that the new restrictions being introduced from tomorrow mean you will not be allowed to play tennis in England for the duration of the national lockdown,” he said in a statement on Thursday.
“As a result of the closure of all outdoor tennis courts as well as indoor facilities
“We believe that if people are being encouraged to take part in exercise during lockdown and are allowed to meet someone else from a different household for a socially distanced walk, they should have been able to play tennis against each other on either side of a net.
“The physical and mental health benefits of tennis to participants are high, whilst the risk from the sport is incredibly low.
“Despite these arguments the Government has decided that tennis courts should close.”
Tennis is more socially-distanced than gyms, and the latest ukactive data shows a rate of just 2.88 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 gym visits in the UK between 5-11 October, and just 0.99 cases per 100,000 visits across the UK since the sector re-opened in July.
Liz Terry, editor of Health Club Management (HCM) said: “We know when it comes to fighting the virus that people who exercise regularly have a huge advantage, are less likely to be hospitalised and if they are hospitalised, are less likely to need to be ventilated.”
“We’d love to see the government acting on this science and taking the opportunity to tackle this challenge positively, by keeping gyms, leisure centres and sports facilities open and encouraging everyone to get fit to fight COVID in the run up to Christmas.
“Locking down and preventing people from exercising and keeping fit is counter-intuitive in the middle of a health crisis.
“We’re calling on Boris Johnson to choose this positive way forward, give the nation a health boost at this vital time, and stressing to him that keeping gyms open will relieve the burden on the health service and – importantly – will cost the government absolutely nothing.”
Lloyd suggests that the decision will have a big impact on the grassroots game in the UK, and revealed he has been encouraged to start a petition to get tennis clubs re-opened.
“Over the past few days there has been tremendous support from the tennis community for the campaign to keep courts open,” he added.
“That has really helped to bring to life the value of the sport to the nation, and I’d like to thank everyone who contacted their MP to make the case for tennis to continue as a safe, socially distanced sport.
“Doing this can still help to ensure our sport is treated appropriately going forward, so if you are yet to do so then we would continue to urge you to write to your local MP.
“Many of you have been in touch asking if we could set up a petition to demonstrate support for tennis.
“We haven’t ruled out doing this in the future, but whilst petitions can commit the Government to giving a response or holding a debate, these take time to both be approved and be effective.
“We have found direct lobbying of MPs to be a quicker, more direct approach, helping to build important support within Parliament.
“Whilst we are disappointed with the outcome, we respect the decision the Government has taken and now ask all those involved in tennis in England to adhere to it.
“As has been the case throughout this challenging period, we remain committed to doing all we can to support tennis in Britain and look forward to the sport being able to resume its role in keeping the nation active as soon as possible.”
As well as depriving people of facilities in which to stay healthy, the lockdown threatens the financial viability of physical activity providers, both in the private and public sectors.
Tara Dillon, CEO of the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (CIMSPA), said that while the Government had made some additional financial help available, it didn’t go far enough for many in the industry.
“The extension of the furlough scheme, for example, will help individual workers, but there is a very real danger that we will see more leisure facilities being permanently closed and tens of thousands of jobs being lost,” Dillon said.
“It is essential that the government steps forward with an enhanced financial support fund to protect this sector which has a crucial role to play in the nation’s health, during the pandemic and beyond.”
The LTA says that if sports and physical activity facilities are forced to close, the Government should ensure there is ring-fenced funding to secure their financial futures.
“The long term future of sports venues is vital and many are already facing severe financial challenges, so we will continue to argue for further support from the government in the form of a Sports Recovery Fund,” said Lloyd.
His views are mirrored by Lisa Wainwright, CEO of Sports and Recreation Alliance (SRA), who says she is ‘deeply concerned’ that, without extra funding, restricting access to sports facilities may be the ‘final nail in the coffin’ for many.
“The closure of our facilities will once again place a financial burden on thousands of community clubs who are already reeling from the initial lockdown,” Wainwright said.
“We fear that many may never re-open their doors without a comprehensive Sports Recovery Fund provided by the government.
“With another lockdown looming, this funding is now essential.”