Co-written with Ben Thompson
The ban of certain outdoor sports, particularly tennis and golf, by the government during the second national lockdown was met with anger and confusion by players across the country.
For recreational tennis players all forms of the sport, even singles and one-to-one coaching, have been banned.
Frustration has also been bubbling in golfers across England as courses and driving ranges have now closed for four weeks.
Many feel confused that from 5 November-2 December they can meet up with one other person outdoors but cannot participate in their regular form of exercise until the lockdown ends.
“The risk of playing tennis is low while the physical and mental benefits to participants are high.”
While recent statistics suggest that a second COVID lockdown is a necessary step for the country to take, many people believe that a ban on tennis is not.
Tennis on outdoor courts is a relatively risk-free activity; Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) CEO Scott Lloyd notes the natural social distancing on either side of the net built into the sport.
Regulations were also put in place by the LTA to stress the importance of hygiene and safety on the court, to make an already safe sport even safer.
Members of the public are permitted to meet one person from another household in a socially distanced manner, and while it would seem like singles tennis meets those rules perfectly it is not permitted.
In fact, a loophole in the rules allows for tennis to be played by individuals in a car park or an open field but not on an outdoor court. Despite this, the government have refused to change the decision.
The LTA launched an appeal soon after the ban was implemented in hopes of the ban being reversed which was unsuccessful.
It is clear that the potential risks of continuing outdoor tennis are outweighed by the positive impact that sport has on its participants.
In a statement, Lloyd was clear in emphasising that the risk of playing tennis is low while the physical and mental benefits to participants are high.
The LTA released the results of research undertaken during the first lockdown that concluded that there was a “link between playing tennis and recreational players’ mental wellbeing.”
To ban the sport despite its proven benefits at a time when mental health is a large issue among the population is perhaps a step too far.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated when asked about the second lockdown: “It is difficult to take out one part of the Jenga block without disturbing the whole package.”
Recreational tennis players could surely wonder why outdoor tennis was part of this Jenga block in the first place.
The government’s decision is also yet another blow to a sport that is already in need of significant financial aid due to the impact the first lockdown had on indoor tennis facilities around the country.
Lloyd said: “Even when activity is allowed to recommence, Community Indoor Tennis Centres and clubs with indoor facilities are facing a very difficult winter and at least a third face the prospect of closure without further support.
“So we will also continue to campaign for a comprehensive Sports Recovery Fund that can help grassroots clubs and venues who have been most impacted this year.”
The sport will resume, with the same COVID safety measures in place, when the second lockdown ends.
It is uncertain, however, what both the short and long-term damage of this month-long ban will be to tennis in the country.
Golf Community Dismayed by the Government’s Decision
During the first lockdown which started on 23 March, there were strict travel restrictions in place which prohibited people from travelling for exercise.
There were also limits on the quantity of exercise allowed, with people rationed to just one hour away from their homes per day.
So, it made sense for golf courses to close to keep to the government guidelines.
However, for the second lockdown, the rules seem more relaxed. And the government has allowed unlimited exercise and for people to travel to do so.
The guidance says people can travel “to spend time or exercise outdoors – this should be done locally wherever possible, but you can travel to do so if necessary (for example, to access an open space).”
Three million people in England play golf across 2,270 courses. And with the strict guidance from England Golf, social distancing is simple.
Golf courses were one of the very first things to reopen in May along with tennis courts, and with good reason.
When playing golf in two balls, there are vast amounts of available space to distance yourself from another player.
Perhaps, this is more difficult on greens and tees, but there is still never a need to be within two meters of another player.
And the expensive measures put in place by England Golf already, now mean that anyone can play golf without touching anything but their equipment.
Therefore, it is not surprising that the golfing community have fought back against golf courses closing for the next four weeks.
Golfers launched a petition to keep courses open, and it gained more than 250,000 signatures within a few hours.
The petition garnered the support of golf personalities including Sky Sports Golf presenter Nick Dougherty, who argued the sport provides numerous mental health benefits.
England Golf and other governing bodies were also frustrated by the closure, not least for financial reasons.
Jeremy Tomlinson, CEO of England Golf, promised that they would challenge the government’s rationale for closing golf courses.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Golf sent a formal letter to the Prime Minister on behalf of England Golf, the PGA, The R&A, BIGGA and other golfing leaders detailing why courses should stay open. However, the government refused to change their minds.
Johnson said: “I must apologise to my honourable friend for not being able to offer the House a huge list of exemptions to the rules that we are setting out. Because once you unpick at one thing, alas, the effectiveness of the whole package is compromised.”
Essentially, the government believes allowing golf courses to stay open would be confusing and lead to other sports wanting to continue.
But at what cost does this come to citizens, the people the government are ultimately trying to protect?
People of all ages play golf, and for many, it is their primary source of exercise.
And golf not only helps people keep fit, but it’s a great way to get some fresh air and socialise with friends.
In February, a US Cardiovascular Health Study showed that playing golf at least once a month halves the risk of early death because it reduces stress.
Lead author Professor Adnan Qureshi said: “Regular exercise, exposure to a less polluted environment and social interactions provided by golf are all positive for health.”
And these scientists aren’t alone in their findings because a 2016 study by the University of Edinburgh found playing golf helps people to live longer.
The scientists reviewed 5,000 studies into golf and concluded the sport was likely to boost life expectancy, help chronic diseases and increase brainpower.
These findings aren’t surprising because playing a round of golf involves walking four to eight miles burning on average a minimum of 500 calories.
Therefore, the inability to play golf for four weeks, perhaps longer, could negatively impact millions of people’s health.
England Golf has responded to the government’s final decision on the closing of courses: “We will spend the next four weeks strengthening our network and building on this fantastic momentum to make sure that golf is never again in the position of having to close its doors.”
There are not only health impacts for closing courses, but many clubs will now find themselves in a difficult financial position.
They will be able to claim support from the government, but this cannot make up for lost revenue.
Many clubs have set-up crowdfunding initiatives and asked members to loan money, while some have already announced they will be closing.
The next few weeks will be testing for players of both sports, but we encourage you to stay in contact with your tennis and golfing friends and find alternative ways to exercise.