Welsh sporting governing bodies have reacted with “disappointment and frustration” at the government’s latest “illogical” plans for lifting Covid-19 restrictions.
Welsh Athletics, Welsh Cricket, Swim Wales, Welsh Gymnastics and the Welsh Sports Association are five of the organisations calling on First Minister Mark Drakeford to reconsider the timetable for restarting adult sporting activities, which he announced on Thursday.
They are unhappy that organised outdoor sports cannot begin until May 3 at the earliest – a week after outdoor hospitality at venues such as pubs are scheduled to re-open.
The Welsh Sports Association is the body that represents Wales’ various sports govering bodies.
Their chief executive Victoria Ward said: “We are hugely disappointed at the news about Wales’ path out of lockdown.
“We really wanted to see Welsh Government emphasise the importance of physical activity as we unlock society.
“Whilst a timetable for the reopening of sport and leisure allows us to put in place firm plans, the announced dates are later than we and our colleagues had hoped and anticipated.
“Our sector has consistently proved our ability to adapt and respond to the pandemic and put in place the measures required to operate safely and this doesn’t seem to have been reflected in the news today.
“We are perplexed at the decision made by the Welsh Government and we would urge them to reconsider the timetable.
“We can’t pretend not to be puzzled by the timetable. The First Minister and Health Minister have repeatedly warned about the link between alcohol consumption and increased transmission of the virus.
“Given this, we do not understand the return date for outdoor activity for adults, including organised sport, coming behind a limited reopening of outdoor hospitality.
“This leaves us in the extraordinary position that any sports club with an outdoor bar area will be able host members and guests for drinks before it will be able to host a socially distant game of cricket.
“Sport and exercise are key for a healthy recovery from the pandemic and we can’t understand the logic of this decision.
“Indoor facilities will also be opening later than we’d hoped. This will have a disproportionate impact on groups that are dependent on these venues for participation.
“Evidence suggests that women and girls, disabled people and those from BAME backgrounds are much more likely to participate indoors, and their return will now be much later than we’d hoped.
“This, coupled with the evidence that the First Minister has received from his own officials at Public Health Wales, that visiting ‘facilities such as…gyms and leisure centres also did not appear to increase risk of infection’ leaves us wondering how these decisions were made.
Welsh Athletics CEO James Williams said: “Welsh Athletics is calling on the Welsh Government to review its return plan, and to bring forward the date that group activities can re-start.
“Welsh Athletics is disappointed that despite the well-proven benefits to mental and physical wellbeing that sport and exercise provides, that the date for return of activities for those aged 18+ has been delayed further.
“Albeit we have constantly advocated and supported a cautious approach to the easing of restrictions, the positive trends in respect to the spread of Covid across Wales should now provide an opportunity for a wider return for sport and organised activities.
“Our sport is predominantly an outside activity that can be delivered in a socially distanced way – with all available evidence suggesting that it is has extremely low risk of spreading the Covid virus.
“To delay the return of activities that have proven to be safe whilst enabling other activities that do not fit into the same category seems illogical.
“Our clubs and groups provide a support network for many thousands of athletes of all backgrounds and abilities across Wales. These groups have supported many thousands of individuals to start their physical activity journey.
“Sport will play a key role in supporting the physical and mental health of the nation as we move beyond COVID – the sooner we can get organised group activities for those aged above 18 the better.”
Cricket Wales CEO, Leshia Hawkins, commented: “While we have been left extremely frustrated and deflated by the news today, cricket in Wales has demonstrated time and again over the last year its resilience, agility and commitment to getting the game on safely – and the next few weeks will be no different, I’m sure.
“We have already begun the process of proactively engaging with league administrators in both Wales and England, and our clubs, to work through the implications of today’s news and to ensure minimal or no loss of competitive cricket for adults in the short-term.
“I want to assure the Welsh cricket family that we will get through this latest bump in the road together and we will come back stronger.
“In the meantime, I respectfully urge Welsh Government colleagues to consider re-instating equitable participation opportunities for recreational sports people, either side of the England-Wales border, as many other industries’ customers have been afforded by the most recent review.”
During a health pandemic one of the last industries to reopen in Wales will be the fitness industry. Outdoor group activities will see you being able to drink alcohol before you can exercise and play sport. We wonder why 60% of our nation are classified as being in ‘poor health’.
— Robin Sowden-Taylor (@rob_s_taylor) April 1, 2021
WSA chief executive Ward added: “Sport and leisure will continue to work constructively with the Welsh Government as we begin to emerge from lockdown.
“The accelerated timetable for test events gives us some hope of a return to larger grass roots competitions and spectator events in our stadiums this year and this is very welcome news.
“We are also hopeful that a slower initial pace might allow us to proceed more quickly as we move through summer, just as we have seen with vaccine rollout. We look forward to welcoming the public back for a summer of sport.”
Meanwhile, Swim Wales has written an open letter to the First Minister – co-signed by more than 80 chairs of the sport’s member clubs throughout Wales.
The letter describes the first minister’s announcement as, “both disappointing and concerning in equal measures”.
The letter concludes: “To say we are puzzled and confused by your approach is an understatement.
“The decision made by the Welsh Government is irrational and lacks logic, and on behalf of the tens of thousands of people we represent we would urge you to reconsider the timetable.”
Another sport to echo the criticism is gymnastics with Welsh Gymnastics chief executive Michelle Fulford stating: “Welsh Gymnastics are hugely disappointed at the timeframes given for returning to indoor activity in Wales.
A copy of this open letter can be found here ⬇️
— Swim Wales (@SwimWales) April 1, 2021
“Welsh Gymnastics support the statement made by the Welsh Sports Association and call for Welsh Government to reconsider the timeframe for returning to indoor sport.
“Whilst we appreciate that there are tough decisions for government to take as we ease the necessary restrictions created by Covid-19, Welsh Gymnastics feel strongly that physical activity of children and young people in a safe indoor environment should be able to happen sooner than the proposed date of May 17th. All available evidence suggests leisure facilities do not appear to increase risk of infection.
“Our sport is predominantly children and young people who are now able to access other environments with less restrictions, however they are not able to access their gymnastics club where social distancing is possible.
“Clubs have worked tirelessly to implement strict protocols to ensure that they are as safe as possible for all involved.”
Welsh Government says the planned changes announced on Thursday continue its step-by-step approach to relaxing the coronavirus restrictions, taking account of the highly-infectious Kent variant, which is now the dominant form of the virus in Wales.
Announcing the general timetable for lifting restrictions the First Minister said:
“The sacrifices we have all made are having a positive effect in the battle against Coronavirus. This last year has been incredibly difficult for all of us and again I want to thank everyone for their efforts.
“These efforts have allowed us to gradually ease the restrictions, to gradually introduce more elements of normal life.
“With the weather improving, with more opportunities to see family and friends, there are reasons for optimism. However, we can’t let our guard down yet. We all still need to be vigilant, we still need to do our part to keep this deadly disease at bay.”