Covid: Welsh professional sport will continue during breaker lockout

Wales rugby match with France in Paris on Saturday set to go as planned

Professional athletes from Wales will be allowed to continue to compete and train under the ‘firewall’ lockdown, along with professional sports teams.

Welsh government guidelines initially required the lockdown of elite athletes in sports such as boxing, gymnastics, judo, swimming and track and field in Wales.

A clarification Wednesday cleared the Olympic and Paralympic athletes.

Those “who are full-time and funded by the National Lottery can be considered working professionals”.

The containment measure announced Monday is designed to provide a circuit breaker for the spread of Covid-19.

It will take place from Friday October 23 to Monday November 9.

The Welsh government clarification continued: “They [professional sportspeople] will have a reasonable excuse to leave their home to travel to train, compete and access the facilities.

“The regulation will allow a local authority or the Welsh government to allow premises to be opened to provide facilities for these athletes during the firewall period, as they will have to remain closed to the general public.

“It is hoped that Sport Wales can continue its role in defining and overseeing this cohort of professional athletes to ensure that access is available and that strict protocols are followed.”

A spokesperson for Sport Wales said: “We welcome confirmation from the Welsh government that full-time national lottery-funded athletes who train for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics can continue to train for firewall and we thank those responsible for listening to comments from National Governing Bodies and Athletes over the past few days.

“We will now be working at the pace of our partners to determine how best to support this small number of athletes during this time.”

The news will be a huge relief for leading Welsh sportsmen, who have reportedly seen their preparations for next year’s Tokyo Olympics and 2022 Commonwealth Games even more disrupted.

Natalie Powell, who won Commonwealth Gold for Wales in judo in 2014, previously told BBC Sport Wales the record that being in confinement would have resumed training, as she prepares for the European Championships in November.

Wales’ main professional sports teams were already allowed to continue playing despite the country entering a national ‘firewall’ lockdown.

The Welsh government statement on Monday said: “Athletes who work and earn a living from sport are allowed to continue working.

“Meetings involving professional athletes are allowed to continue behind closed doors. All participants, such as players, officials, coaches and broadcasters, are there in a working capacity.

“Like everyone else, they can leave home to do it if they can’t work from home.

“However, the elite program, overseen by Sport Wales, will be suspended during this period of circuit breaker.”

This means the Wales rugby union tests in Paris this Saturday and at home against Scotland in Llanelli a week later on October 31, as well as the Pro14 matches involving Cardiff Blues, Dragons, Ospreys and Scarlets will take place.

Wales women’s Six Nations home match against Scotland on 1 November will also be played as planned.

Likewise, Cardiff City, Swansea City, Newport County and Wrexham who play in the English Football League and the National League can fill their matches.

The European women’s national football team’s European qualifying matches against the Faroe Islands on Thursday at Rodney Parade in Newport and Norway on October 27 at Cardiff City Stadium can also take place.

The Cymru Premier National falls under the elite Sport Wales program and has seen the majority of its football matches postponed, although games between the fully professional teams The New Saints, Connah’s Quay, Bala and Haverfordwest meet the criteria of the Welsh government and can be played.

The largely amateur Welsh Premier Women’s League has been on hold until the lockdown ends.

The league was won last year by the Swansea City Ladies, who risk being excluded from the Women’s Champions League if they cannot play during the lockdown.

The team are set to play their Champions League fixture on November 3-4 against opponents who will be revealed in Thursday’s draw, but UEFA’s governing body must know by midnight Friday if there is a reason why clubs cannot complete matches.

It is understood that the Football Association of Wales has written to the Welsh government asking for a special waiver in order for the match to go ahead, while BBC Sport Wales has also asked the Welsh government for clarification on the status of the tie.

Golf and tennis clubs, as well as swimming pools and recreation centers will also have to close during the lockdown period.

All community, amateur and practice sports should be suspended during fire containment.

Sara R. Cicero