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Where does hockey sit as elite sport returns in England?

The Lee Valley hockey and tennis centre with its 'Union Jack' pitch

By Richard Bright

Elite sport can resume behind closed doors in England from Monday if certain guidelines are met, with the government announcing on Saturday that “the British sporting recovery has begun.”

The rules form stage three of the government process of bringing sport back from the lockdown after nearly three months with no action. Stage two allowed for close-contact training for elite athletes and was published last Monday.

People in England will be able to exercise outside, with up to five others from different households from Monday (June 1), on the proviso that strict social distancing guidelines are followed.

It means that a small number of people in sports teams will be able to resume fitness and conditioning sessions.

Oliver Dowden, secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said: “The wait is over. Live British sport will shortly be back on in safe and carefully controlled environments.”

Dowden said it was up to each individual sport to decide when to resume competitions, if a “forensic, clinician-led approach” is taken.

In hockey’s case, this has yet to be ascertained, given that the GB central programme is yet to resume training at Bisham Abbey and the hockey season not set until September. But this weekend’s announcement makes that prospect more of a reality for the senior squads.

For the time being, added Dowden, “Football, tennis, horse racing, Formula One, cricket, golf, rugby, snooker and others are all set to return to our screens shortly.”

With some hockey clubs making pitches available for members and some remaining closed in the last week, England Hockey set out its clearest message yet on Friday on the potential timelines for the coming weeks – and for the 2020-21 season.

England Hockey said: “We would encourage our players, clubs and associations to interpret these as a guide and support and align to the work that will need to be done if plans change. At this stage it is not possible to make definitive plans.”

On Monday, England Hockey will move to the initial Step 2 process, with socially distanced training and small groups but with social distancing in place, with furher guidance set to be published on this. Step 5 will be a return to full competitive match play. As has been alerted by some THP readers, it is imperative that hockey players look at their club or individual insurance and liabilities during this time.

For the upcoming season, the national governing body has recommended clubs plan for the season as normal.

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EH issued several options if the season is unable to start on time, including a later finish in the season, a streamlined calendar or splitting leagues in the latter part of the season. EH said it would review the current situation every three weeks.

As far as elite sport goes, there is still uncertainty as to when the Pro League can resume with travel restrictions still in place.

Referring to several top women’s sports either having league seasons decimated or the international summer curtailed, Dowden said that women’s sport would not be allowed to fall by the wayside. He said: “Visibility matters, and our daughters deserve to see female athletes on the main stage.”

If hockey had been in a similar position, the equality nature of the domestic game, coupled with the amateur status, it is likely that the sport wouldn’t have been affected, with the sport not reliant upon ticket income and a professional set up in the domestic game.

Still, much remains an uncertainty at the top end of the sport until the autumn, but with the dearth of top-level hockey could the prospect of a behind-closed-doors Home Nations event become a possibility, perhaps?

Come September, it is hoped that the landscape will be clearer.

With that comes the likelihood of GB’s central programme players – many of whom had contracts on the continent lined up – playing autumn (and beyond) internationals and missing out on domestic hockey. Again, time will tell.

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