Anger is mounting over inconsistencies for grass-roots sport between various members of the United Kingdom during the third lockdown.
Under-12s, angling, golf and tennis groups have expressed dismay over activities being allowed in Scotland but not in England.
The obliteration of children’s sport this week does not apply north of the border for primary school ages following lobbying in the spring by Play Scotland. Children under the age of 12 “do not count towards the total number of people counted in a gathering” even under the nation’s severest restrictions. “This is to allow children under 12 to play with their friends outside,” the rules state.
Two leading child welfare groups – UsForThem and Playing Out – are now calling for exemptions in England and Wales.
Grass-roots tennis, golf and fishing are also subject to the whims of geography. Urgent representations are being made over fears of a potentially “absurd” ban on fishing in England – but not in Scotland and Wales – during the new Covid-19 lockdown.
Lawyers for the Angling Trust have been studying the new guidance and, although there is no direct mention of fishing, the stipulation that you can leave your house for exercise but not for the purpose of outdoor recreation or leisure has left them dismayed.
Fishing was the first sport allowed back following the original lockdown and there was a strong feeling that, like in Germany, Holland, Norway, Denmark, the Czech Republic and Ireland, such a naturally self-isolating activity should never have been part of any Covid-19 lockdown.
Ministers are drawing up the exact new regulations on Tuesday ahead of a parliamentary vote on Wednesday and the Angling Trust is still hoping that an exemption can be made.
It is understood that fishing can continue in Scotland, whose new lockdown also permits golf, tennis, outdoor gyms and some sport for Under-12s. Welsh guidance also explicitly states that fishing is not specifically prohibited. The guidance in England is much stricter and does not currently include leisure or recreation as an acceptable reason to leave a property.
“The current guidelines represent an unwelcome U-turn and reveal the absurdity that is unfolding regarding outdoor recreation and country sports – neither of which are part of the problem that the Government is seeking to address,” said Martin Salter, the Angling Trust’s head of policy. “Unless the regulations are amended, we will end up being able to play golf and go fishing in Scotland, walk or cycle to go fishing in Wales and not to be able to do either in England.”
Fynn Valley Golf Club in Suffolk were also among the first organisations to express anger at inconsistencies for its sport, with courses allowed to remain open in Scotland.
England Golf said in a statement on Monday night that it was “extremely disappointed… having made a strong case in recent months to keep golf open during the national lockdowns and in the regional tier system”. “Please be assured that we will continue to make the case for golf to reopen whenever possible,” a statement added.
With outdoor tennis also continuing north of the Scottish border while clubs on the English side must close, Alan Hodgson, treasurer of Northumberland’s Corbridge Tennis Club, told Telegraph Sport that the distinction “rubs salt into the wound”.
Corbridge’s courts are now being locked up, for the next six weeks at least, although Hodgson admitted that he has all but written off the rest of the season and started thinking about the beginning of the new one on April 1.
“It’s very frustrating because we run a winter programme of training and a significant number of members keep going throughout,” said Hodgson. “A lot of them are 60-plus and it’s a great social thing as well as healthy exercise.
“We have been very careful about keeping our distance and not overloading the courts. Players tend to stay at the same end and we all use hand sanitiser. We have had no issues since last March. So to think that we have to stop playing while they can keep going in Scotland only rubs salt into the wound.”
Since the spring in Scotland, “children under 12 do not need to maintain physical distance from others” under the nation’s rules. Alice Ferguson, director at Playing Out which fights to protect child access to the outdoors, had raised the issue in the autumn as the Telegraph Sport launched its Keep Kids Active in Lockdown campaign.
Molly Kingsley, founder of the UsForThem child welfare campaign group, has also warned of the “actual harm” caused by England’s lockdown on children.
“I think there is an urgent and critical need for the rules here to be simplified, and there’s an urgent need for exemptions to be made so that children can have a degree of social interaction over the coming month,” she told Telegraph Sport on Tuesday.
The Angling Trust also wants ministers to explain why examples of outdoor recreation in the latest guidance are listed only as “socialising and picnics” and have asked for data behind any decision to stop people fishing.
“If we are now to be banned they need to tell us how many Covid-19 cases are attributable to people going fishing and why does the Government want to force a million plus anglers to take their daily recreation in the same parks and open spaces used by everyone else rather than spreading them out harmlessly in the countryside and actually reducing the likelihood of infection?” said Salter.
In its previous submission to the Government, the Angling Trust had explained that 62 per cent of the sport’s participants identified fishing as the only physical activity that they take. “For many, this is their only exercise,” said Jamie Cook, the Angling Trust’s chief executive.
As one of the United Kingdom’s most popular participation sports, angling is also estimated to contribute around £4 billion to the economy and support 400,000 jobs.