Return to sport: A complete guide on what to expect

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Across the nation, elite athletes, trainers, coaches, amateur teams, gyms and classes came to a halt on January the 6th to stem the spread of Covid-19. 

Boris Johnson’s announcement on Monday the 22nd of February set out plans for outdoor sports facilities to reopen from March the 29th. This also means that organised outdoor sports can restart without being subject to gathering limits, with gyms expected to reopen from April the 12th.

So what is expected of us when we return to sport? The UK government has devised a coordinated approach to the resumption of sporting activities to minimise the risk of infection, once we begin to spend more time with those outside of our support bubbles.

For elite sports, this means a considered approach involving professional sports communities, their families and fans, and the numerous staff, venues and organisers that make elite training and competitive sport a possibility.

But what about the smaller sports organisations in our communities? Amateur teams and clubs? gyms and personal trainers? Sports Physiotherapists? We need to be prepared to protect all those who want to enjoy sports activities. Here we cover the essential information for each of these groups.

Table of contents 

Risk Assessments

In almost every instance a risk assessment will be required by the National Governing Body of each sport before steps can be taken to introduce more communal sports activities. This will be a legal requirement of any organised sports group or venue before welcoming groups of individuals from more than one household to play sports together. Risk assessments help to identify the risks in a certain environment. This helps us to protect people from the risk of infection, and ensure best practices are followed at all times.

Read our guide to risk assessments to get started. This will help you think about what needs to be covered in your risk assessment.

Elite athletes, teams and managers

An elite athlete is someone who earns a living from competing in a sport or is on a training path to do so. As such elite athlete training and competition can involve multiple people working together such as trainers, healthcare staff, venue hosts, fans and so on.

On the advice of leading representatives, Chief Medical Officers, and institutes across Olympic, Paralympic and professional sports, the UK government has set out five stages to return to elite sport in a safe and controlled way.

During the lockdown, exceptions were made to select elite athletes who could continue to train safely under Covid-19 restrictions, some of which faced criticism. In order to progress through the stages to return to elite sports fully, the government has specified that each stage must be fully implemented before moving on to the next. It is essential that all elite sports participants and staff uphold all safety protocols and measures. 

The stages of the phased return to elite sports:

  1. Return to individual training
  2. Return to competitive training
  3. Return to domestic competition: competitive sport can go ahead but there will be no spectators)
  4. Return to cross border competition (no spectators): The government defines cross border competition as “Competition exclusively involving Elite Athletes, hosted within the UK, where cross border travel (from outside the UK and Ireland) is permitted for individuals essential to the delivery of the Competition.
  5. Return to competition: safe return of spectators

In each stage, emphasis is placed on creating a safe environment for activities to be carried out. Some things to consider for the return to elite sport are:


  • Preparation

Before training resumes, all staff involved should be trained on protocols to uphold safety guidelines, including what to do if someone becomes symptomatic at the venue.

Part of the preparation stage should include ensuring that venues are well equipped with PPE. There are three levels of PPE which are required depending on the activities being carried out and the degree of protection the body needs. Level 2 PPE, which comprises face masks, disposable gloves, face visors and disposable aprons is suitable for most sports-related activities.

Trainers and managers might want to consider equipping themselves with a PPE pack and hand sanitiser for quick access on the go.


  • Minimising risk

Once all required PPE is provided, training on infection control best practices should be provided to all those involved. Upholding strict cleaning and disinfecting processes consistently is key to minimising the risk of transmission.  

Reduce the number of people involved in activities by only allowing essential staff to attend sessions. Government guidance states that there should be a named Covid-19 Officer and Covid-19 Medical Officer, to conduct assessments and oversee protocols. 

Having first aid equipment on hand means that minor injuries can be dealt with onsite, reducing the chance of involving other key workers outside of the elite sports team. Trainers and managers should arm themselves with some first aid essentials in the event of one such injury. Hot and cold therapy products can be used in a variety of different situations to relieve pain and speed up recovery time. Taping and strapping is a quick solution to protecting an existing injury, providing support and restricting the movement of a recovering joint.


  • Be prepared for injury

We should return to sport carefully, knowing that processes may be different and that, in some cases, sports haven’t been practised in some time. Injury prevention must be carefully considered as we accustom ourselves to the new normal. Many National Governing Bodies will have set out protocols to minimise the chances of injury. 

Selecting training activities that are least likely to result in injury means the risk of contact with more people and hospital visits is reduced. If an injury does occur its possible athletes may face slower response times from paramedics during the pandemic.

Being prepared with the right sports medical kits can make this more manageable and less stressful. Elite sports managers might want to consider a pitchside trauma kit for immediate pre-hospital care.

Grassroots sports and organised sports

Currently, you can only exercise outdoors by yourself; with those in your household; when alone within your support bubble; or in a childcare bubble. When these restrictions begin to ease, processes must be in place for organised sport and grassroots sport to resume safely. 

The UK government defines organised sport as “‘sport which is formally organised by a national governing body, club, public body, qualified instructor, company or charity, and which follows the sport’s national governing body’s guidance”.

At grassroots and organised sports level, it is the responsibility of all sports clubs, with support of their National Governing Bodies (NGBs) to conduct risk assessments and publish guidance on how to safely participate in sports activities. All risk assessments should adhere to Health and Safety Executive guidance. 

There are four key principles to consider when conducting organised sports. These should be considered in each risk assessment:

1. Off-field activity: 

Ensure participants adhere to legal gathering limits and social distancing guidance before and after activities. Participants should only use their own water bottles to minimise the risk of infection. Equipment sharing should be avoided where possible, and when required, a hand sanitiser should be used.


2. Prior to activity

Clubs and providers should have their own risk assessment plans in place, with all volunteers, staff and organisers fully inducted before activities commence. All NGB risk assessments must include processes to collect NHS Track and Trace information. Participants should be asked to conduct a pre-attendance symptom check to ensure they aren’t presenting Covid-19 symptoms.


3. During activity

Set out processes and actions to reduce the risk of contact during activity. This is likely to vary depending on the sport. When considering safety during play, an accident report book can be modified to include instances where players came into contact. Having a sports first aid kit on hand can help with rapid response to injuries, and even decrease the chance of minor injuries needing medical attention.

Breaks shouldn’t just be for when things go wrong, remember to include intervals for players to sanitise hands and clean kit during activity. 


4. Facility usage

Changing rooms, showers and toilets use should be kept to a minimum, with participants waiting to shower at home where possible. Participants must not gather inside venues and clubhouses (unless in the instance of an emergency or to access equipment).  

Sports facilities: owners and staff

Indoor sports facilities present a high risk of infection. Multiple people coming in and out during the day elevate the chances of surface transmission through shared equipment, and droplet transmission due to being in close quarters with others.

Each sports facility is required to carry out a risk assessment to uphold safety guidelines for staff and members. Here are some things sports facilities owners and managers should consider: 

  • Manage contact
    • Use contactless payment
    • Provide hand washing facilities and hand sanitiser
    • Provide facilities to clean equipment before and after use, such as surface sanitiser and paper towels
    • Leave doors open
  • Manage capacity
    • Calculate the facilities capacity limit. The maximum safe indoor capacity is 100 square foot per person
    • Use signage to direct people around a one-way system to ease congestion
    • Have people book in advance where possible
  • Moving in and out of the facility
    • Use floor markings to guide people through a one-way system 
    • Ensure queuing space is provided outside
    • Consider the placement of entrances and exits, minimising the likelihood of people entering from multiple entrances, making controlling numbers difficult
  • Contact while using facilities
    • Train all staff on social distancing
    • Avoid the use of shared objects such as personal equipment, towels, water bottles and sportswear
    • Ensure close contact services such as physiotherapy, beauty and massage are in adherence to relevant guidelines
  • Use test and trace
    • Provide ways that members and staff can use test and trace such as the NHS QR code and a written log
    • Train staff to monitor track and trace, and on how to handle this information

Children’s clubs

Currently, providers of sports activities have been allowed to continue in out-of-school settings for children of critical workers and vulnerable children. Out-of-school settings are organisations or individuals who provide training and tutelage to children without the supervision of parents or teachers or childminders.

As restrictions are lifted organisers and individuals in charge of children’s sports clubs should be diligent in maintaining health and safety guidance and Covid-19 protocols, ensuring children are fully aware of the proper guidance. Some key things to consider when managing groups of children for sports activities are:

1. Group sizes

When assigning group sizes, take into consideration the age and ability of children attending, the size of the venue and the nature of the activities you will be carrying out.

Work with parents and teachers to try and ensure children stay with the children in their bubble at school. Where this cannot be done keep groups to 15 children maximum and ensure they are mixed as little as possible. 


2. Infection control

Infection control policies should be in place and equipment available for children to sanitise hands and for supervisors to disinfect surfaces and objects. Universal disinfectant wipes are an easy and quick way to clean off equipment between uses.


3. Communicating with parents

Make parents aware of processes for picking up and dropping off children to minimise unnecessary contact. Be clear with parents about who can and cannot attend activities. 


4. Safeguarding children

The impact on the mental health and wellbeing of children during the outbreak of Covid-19 and the associated lockdown could be significant. Spending increased time indoors and isolated from others outside of their households could mean that children are at increased risk of abuse in certain circumstances.

Because of this, it is important than adult supervisors of childrens’ out-of-school are aware of these issues, and able to notice signs of abuse or neglect, and how to address these issues using the individual safeguarding policies in place.

Physiotherapists and sports rehabilitators

Physiotherapy, sports therapy and sports rehabilitation are essential practices in almost all sports settings, and with the return to sport will come the necessity of physiotherapists to provide support to both elite and amateur athletes. Sports Injury Fix have a useful guide to help sports therapists to safely re-open.

Although physiotherapists have adapted to Covid-19 by providing video consultations, for the most effective results, particularly for elite athletes who need to recover quickly, physiotherapy requires physical contact.

As with other professional bodies, physiotherapists are required to conduct a risk assessment to ensure all services are performed in an environment that is as safe as possible. Ways to ensure Covid-secure physiotherapy services are:

If you aren’t sure what PPE, first aid or sports medical equipment you need to prepare for the return to sport, we can help. Sterosport is a leading manufacturer of sports first aid and injury supplies. 

Contact Andrew Watson on 0161 902 3030 or email andrew@steroplast.co.uk for a free consultation on your specific requirements. 

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