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Sport, but not how we know it...

After months of waiting, some sports are finally making a return into our lives. The Premier League is kicking off on the 17th June, Test Cricket will start again on the 8th July with England taking on the West Indies, and other sports such as rugby union have started allowing their players back to train again with the intention of starting again in August. With lots of questions surrounding how these sports are going to work in a (nearly) post Covid-19 era, we are looking ahead at the new rules and regulations coming into action in order to keep everyone safe within the different sports.

The biggest change, despite not being a rule change, will be the fact that nearly all of these sports will be played behind closed doors. It has been hard enough for governing bodies to secure the players safety, let alone having to think about tens of thousands of fans that pour into the stadiums. Playing without fans will, without a doubt, change the atmosphere of a match, however, other than New Zealand, who are planning to bring fans back into stadiums sometime next week, this is unlikely to happen anywhere else for the foreseeable future. Cardboard cut-outs of fans have been considered by clubs as an attempt to replicate a crowd, but the use of the existing big screens might prove the most feasible and least costly option to try and normalise a game as much as possible.

There is also going to a difference between team and individual sports, contact and non-contact sports and how they’re reinvented. For example, snooker and horse racing have already started up again behind closed doors as they are both sports in which most of the government guidelines can be observed. Whereas sports where contact is essential, are having to be thought through in a lot more detail.

In football, Project Restart, which has had input from all 20 Premier League clubs, has concluded that it is safe to continue with the season, as long as clubs and players adhere to the new regulations and changes being brought in. One of the big changes being made is that now teams will be able to make five substitutions, instead of three, and will also be able to name nine substitutes instead of the usual seven, which has been introduced to protect players welfare. Clubs have also agreed on paper to the use of neutral venues, although the majority of matches are expected to be played in their usual grounds, barring local spikes in coronavirus cases.

World Rugby have approved 10 optional law trails in order to reduce the risk of Covid-19 being transmitted within the sport. This includes reducing the number of scrums during a match, removing the choke tackle, limiting numbers in the maul and speeding up rucks. They have also said that a number of additional hygiene procedures will be introduced to both training and matches, again to stop the spread of the virus. Application of the measures, however, will be at the discretion of individual unions and so will not be strictly regulated from above.

Players and umpires participating within the game of cricket will still need to practice social distancing both on and off the pitch. Players are not allowed to use saliva to shine the ball and should use a hand sanitiser once they have had contact with the ball and umpires should consider wearing gloves to handle the ball to prevent any gems being passed around. These amendments to the sport have not come as a surprise and should be easy to follow. The upcoming Test series is being played at Old Trafford and the Ageas Bowl as both grounds have hotels where both the players and officials can stay during the matches. So therefore, with no contact to the outside world, it should make the sport safe for everyone involved.

In other sports boxers have been said to be back in the gym and the British & Irish Boxing Authority (BIBA) issued guidelines ahead of proposed ‘Behind Closed Doors’ Events looking to take place in early July. All of these events will be limited to a maximum of 5 contests and limited to a maximum of 6 rounds with only a Referee, Supervisor and Time Keeper in attendance. PPE will be worn throughout the event by the ringside officials and others in attendance even during the fight. They will be undertaking testing ahead of the events for all people taking part as well as regular taking of temperatures of those in attendance at the venue, however otherwise everything will be the same.

It will be fascinating to see how these amendments to the rules and regulations will change our favourite sports as we know them, and whether they will be a success in both the short and long run. For many sports the loss of revenue from broadcasting (sales of media rights), commercial (sponsorship and advertising partnerships) and match day revenue (ticketing and hospitality) was becoming the real issue and so it was essential to salvage what they could of their seasons as soon as they could. I believe that most sports will benefit from these changes from above, as it was the right time for the governing bodies to take a look at their game and to bring it back to its roots. As much as I have enjoyed reminiscing about previous sporting successes that have been broadcast all over our screens over the past few months, I am very much looking forward to creating new memories and getting back to what we all love, watching and playing sport!

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