Children’s team sport has been completely wiped out by the second Covid-19 lockdown despite the Government continuing to allow youngsters to take part in PE classes at school.
The Football Association is expected to suspend thousands of grass-roots youth football leagues on Monday after a host of parents and campaigners expressed concern and confusion over the new curbs.
The latest lockdown regulations say “most” youth clubs will be closed unless they have a formal childcare function, but few are likely to stay open after grass-roots outdoor sport for adults was banned.
No exceptions are expected to be granted for children’s sports clubs, such as Saturday football leagues, as they involve children mixing in large numbers.
An online petition has been created to lobby the Government to make a formal exception for under-18s sport. Mark Ing, who started the campaign, said sport was “important for the kids’ health” and could be run without adult spectators.
As far as football and rugby are concerned, organised team contact sport is deemed a non-starter. Children will be limited to kickabouts with one other youngster from another household.
Scott Lloyd, chief executive of the LTA, directly appealed to the Government on Sunday to keep outdoor tennis courts open for youngsters.
"We know tennis activity for children is also hugely important and so we have argued for this to continue where possible," he said. "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."
The lockdown is of concern for health campaigners, who warned recently that childhood obesity rates in the UK have risen again. More than a quarter (27.5 per cent) of Year 6 children, aged 10-11, living in the most deprived areas were obese compared to 11.9 per cent of those living in the least deprived areas. Some 13.3 per cent of Reception children, aged 4-5, living in the most deprived areas were obese compared to 6 per cent of those living in the least deprived areas, the Government’s National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) for the 2019-20 school year found.
Lloyd added: "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. Millions of adults and children in England play tennis every year and enjoy the physical and mental health benefits that it provides, and that positive impact is needed now more than ever."
Under the new restrictions, people are being told to stay at home unless they have a specific reason to leave, such as education and work that cannot be done from home. People are allowed to exercise outdoors alone, with their household or with one other person.