Guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): grassroots sports guidance for the public and sport providers

This guidance sets out information for the public and sport providers on how to participate in grassroots sport and physical activity during COVID restrictions.

The government has published the COVID-19 Response - Spring 2021 setting out the roadmap out of the current lockdown for England. This explains how the government intends to ease restrictions over time.

This guidance includes changes to restrictions for step 2, which come into effect on 12 April. It will be updated ahead of further steps, which are set out in the roadmap.

1. What this guidance covers

Sport and physical activity play a hugely important role in our lives. However, to uphold wider public health objectives, limits have been placed on some activities and settings in order to limit social contact and reduce transmission.

Staying active is a vital weapon against COVID-19, which is why people will always be able to, and encouraged to, exercise even during periods of tough restrictions. People should try to ensure they exercise regularly in a way that suits them, as physical activity plays a vital role in both our physical and mental wellbeing.

This guidance sets out information for the public and sport providers on how to participate in grassroots sport and physical activity during COVID-19 restrictions. Sport providers should use this guidance to inform how they provide grassroots sport and physical activity, alongside specific guidance for their sport set out by their national governing body. There is also more detailed advice for national governing bodies and other organisations on how to develop their own sport-specific guidance, which includes the team sport framework, contact combat sport framework, and guidance on delivering sport participation events (such as races and organised walking groups).

Understanding ‘organised sport’

Where the rules mention ‘organised’ sport, this means sport which is formally organised by a qualified instructor, club, national governing body, company or charity and follows sport-specific guidance. If the sport is not organised by one of these groups (for example, some friends having a kickabout) or the sport’s NGB guidance is not being followed (for example, a football club ignoring the FA’s safety measures), this is considered to be informal or self-organised sport.

Taking part in organised sport sometimes means that other restrictions such as legal gathering limits don’t apply during the activity. This is because the organising body has considered the risks and set out ways to mitigate them so people can participate safely. Informal or self-organised sport is not covered by any exemptions.

2. Participation in sport and physical activity

Social contact and gathering limits

  • People can meet and exercise outdoors in groups of up to 6 people, or as a group of 2 households. A group made up of 2 households can include more than 6 people, but only where all members of the group are from the same 2 households (each household can include an existing support bubble, if eligible), or an exemption applies. Social distancing should be maintained between people who do not live together or share a bubble.

  • Indoors, people are not permitted to meet others they do not live with, including for exercise (unless an exemption applies). You can find more information in the coronavirus restrictions guidance.

Organised outdoor sport

  • Organised outdoor sport for adults and children is permitted with any number of participants, where it is formally organised (for example, by a national governing body, business or charity) and follows COVID-secure guidance. This applies to organised outdoor (individual and team) sports, outdoor exercise classes, organised sports participation events and outdoor licensed physical activity.
  • All children can take part in outdoor childcare and supervised activities, including sport and physical activity (such as community sport clubs).
  • Participants should maintain social distancing when not actively participating (e.g. during breaks in play, or when awaiting substitutions). Social interaction before and after playing any sport should only take place outdoors, and in separate and distinct groups consisting of up to 6 people or two households.
  • When not taking part in organised sport, people must adhere to the rules on social contact. People can meet outdoors in groups of up to 6 people, or as a group of 2 households.
  • Sports which require participants to be in frequent close proximity to each other (such as rugby league, rugby union, netball) should adapt both training and game-play to reduce the level of contact so far as reasonably possible and take steps to minimise risk. Your NGB or sport provider should set out any adaptations required for safe provision in their guidance, or you can contact them through their website for more information.
  • Where sport is not formally organised, it can only take place within the rules on social contact above - in groups of up to 6 people, or 2 households.

Organised sport participation events

  • Organised sport participation events such as races and organised walks can take place outdoors and are exempt from legal gathering limits. However they must follow the measures for organised sport participation events set out in the guidance on safe provision of grassroots sport.

Outdoor sport facilities

  • Outdoor sport facilities can open to the public. This applies to all outdoor sport facilities, including outdoor gyms, swimming pools, courts, pitches, golf courses (including mini-golf), water sports venues, climbing walls, driving and shooting ranges, riding arenas at riding centres and archery venues.
  • Outdoor skating rinks and outdoor trampolining parks must remain closed until 12 April, when they can open to the public.
  • Changing rooms can open but their use should be minimised. Changing rooms are areas of increased risk, so you should shower and change at home where possible. If you do need to use changing rooms, you should minimise time spent inside.
  • When not taking part in organised sport, people using your facility must adhere to the rules on social contact. Outdoors, people can meet in groups of up to 6 people, or 2 households. When using indoor facilities such as toilets, should not mix with others they do not live with (or share a relevant bubble with) indoors, unless an exemption applies.

Indoor sport facilities

  • From 12 April, indoor sport facilities can open to the public. This applies to most indoor sport and physical activity facilities, including gyms and leisure centres, sport courts and pitches, dance studios and fitness studios, climbing walls and climbing wall centres, multi-sport facilities (including driving ranges, archery venues and indoor riding centres) and swimming pools.
  • Indoor skating rinks and trampoline parks must remain closed, except where specific exemptions apply.
  • Guests using your facility must adhere to the rules on social contact. People should not mix with others they do not live with (or share a relevant bubble with) indoors, unless an exemption applies.
  • Changing rooms can open but their use should be minimised. Changing rooms are areas of increased risk, so you should shower and change at home where possible. If you do need to use changing rooms, you should minimise time spent inside.
  • Indoor sport facilities can only be used for individual activity or for activities by people from the same household (or support/childcare bubble). Personal training and coaching can take place either 1:1 or within households/bubbles. Group activities and exercise classes are not otherwise permitted for adults.
  • All children can take part in indoor childcare and supervised activities, including sport and physical activity (such as community sport clubs) subject to restrictions on size of group as set out in the out-of-school settings guidance. From 12 April, these activities can also take place at indoor skating rinks and trampolining parks, which are otherwise closed to the public (except where exemptions apply).
  • Facilities must follow the guidance for sport facilities, which set out measures on cleaning as well as capacity limits and ventilation requirements.

Face coverings

  • People are not required to wear face coverings while taking part in sport and physical activity. All forms of face coverings may restrict breathing efficiency and should not be used during exercise except on specific advice from a physician.
  • Visitors are not required to wear face coverings in sport facilities, however they should be encouraged to wear face coverings in enclosed public areas when not engaging in sport or physical activity.

Personal training

  • Personal training is permitted outdoors, in outdoor sport facilities, and in private gardens, where it is formally organised and follows COVID-secure guidance.
  • From 12 April, coaching and personal training can take place indoors (however this should not take place in private homes). Indoor personal training can be provided on a 1:1 basis to individuals, or to household groups (or relevant bubbles, where eligible). Social distancing should be maintained between trainers and participants at all times.

Education and training

  • Essential work, education and training can take place in person, where it cannot be done remotely.
  • Professional training that is working towards an external accreditation recognised by a professional body (e.g. a national governing body coaching course) can go ahead.
  • For practical activity sessions, you should follow national governing body/training provider guidelines.

Contact combat sports (including martial arts, wrestling and boxing)

  • Each contact combat sport must have its return to play guidance approved before any activity which doesn’t adhere to social distancing guidance can resume.
  • Approved contact combat sports can only resume in line with the permitted activity set out in the contact combat sport framework.
  • Outdoors: approved contact combat sports can resume outdoors at phase 2 of the contact combat sports framework for children, and phase 1 for adults.
  • Indoors: from 12 April, approved contact combat sports can resume indoors at phase 2 for children. Adults can resume indoors at phase 1, but any activity that does not meet social distancing guidance (such as contact or pad work) can only take place between people from the same household or support bubble.
  • National governing bodies should implement return to play guidance to ensure a gradual return to contact and competition.

Spectators

  • Spectators are not permitted to attend sporting events taking place on private land, other than adults needed to supervise under-18s that they have a responsibility for or providing care or assistance to a person with disabilities participating in an organised sporting event or activity. They should maintain social distance and not mix with other households.
  • This does not prevent people from viewing recreational or organised sport that is taking place in a public space, such as a park, in groups of up to 6 people or 2 households.
  • However, sporting events that are intended to attract spectators (including ticketed events), or events that are likely to attract a significant number of spectators (e.g. a major marathon) should not take place in a public space, or on private land, until Step 3.

Travelling for sport

  • People should minimise travel and avoid making unnecessary journeys (for example, by combining their trips where possible).
  • From 12 April, domestic overnight stays are permitted in certain types of accommodation, within a household or support/childcare bubble.
  • You can find more information in the guidance on coronavirus restrictions and safer travel.

Guidance for specific groups

Elite sport

  • The legal gathering limits do not apply to elite athletes and professional dancers using sport facilities for training or competition. Elite sport events can continue to take place in sport facilities (without spectators), where permitted in line with the guidance on elite sport.
  • Professional dancers and choreographers can use indoor skating rinks, which are otherwise closed to the public.

People with disabilities

  • People with disabilities can use indoor facilities for individual fitness activities as well as organised sport in any number. This does not have to be between people from the same household.
  • Non-disabled people are not permitted to participate, except where necessary to enable the sport to take place (such as a carer or coach helping the disabled person to participate).

Sport for educational purposes:

  • Schools and colleges have the flexibility to decide how physical education, sport and physical activity will be provided while following the measures in their system of controls. Pupils should be kept in consistent groups, with sports equipment thoroughly cleaned between each use by different individual groups.
  • Indoor organised sport is permitted where it is part of formal education, and can take place indoors if necessary, but outdoor provision should be prioritised. You can find more information in the Department for Education guidance on actions for schools.
  • Facilities can be used by schools and post-16 education and training providers (such as colleges and universities), for organised sport or individual fitness activities related to their curriculum for schools or post-16 education or training providers. This could include running an indoor basketball session for a school group, or a sport science student training for their sport in a gym.

Activities for children (those who were under 18 on 31 August 2020):

  • All children can take part in indoor childcare and supervised activities, including sport and physical activity (such as community sport clubs) subject to restrictions on size of group as set out in the out-of-school settings guidance. From 12 April, these activities can also take place at indoor skating rinks and trampolining parks, which are otherwise closed to the public (except where exemptions apply).
  • Parent and child groups can also take place indoors and outdoors with a limit of 15 attendees (children under five years of age do not count towards the attendee limit.)

3. How to participate safely

Check for COVID-19 symptoms and health conditions

Before attending any sporting activities, all participants, officials, volunteers and spectators must self-assess for COVID-19 symptoms:

  • A high temperature

  • A new, continuous cough

  • A loss of, or change to, their sense of smell or taste

If you have one or more of these symptoms you should not attend any sporting activity, and must follow NHS and PHE guidance on self-isolation.

People with health conditions that put them at increased risk should consider the risks of participating in group activities like sport and physical activity.

Check if your sport is safe to play, and if there are modifications

Before participating in any sporting activity, you should check whether your sport is safe to play. Every sport’s national governing body should have published guidance on how to participate safely. You should ensure you are following the national governing body’s latest guidance, and follow any measures put in place by the sport provider or event organiser, even where this means modifications to the game.

Additional measures (team sport, contact combat sport)

There are additional measures for team sports and contact combat sports (such as boxing, wrestling and martial arts). These sports should have their action plans approved before they can resume contact activity (advice for sports on how to do this is set out in the guidance for safe provision of grassroots sport). If you want to participate in a team sport or a contact combat sport, you should check whether its guidance has been approved (sports which have received approval are listed at the bottom of the page).

If the sport is listed, the sport’s guidance has been approved.

  • Matches, games and training sessions can take place with any number of participants, where they are organised by a qualified instructor, club, national governing body (NGB), company or charity and follow the NGB’s guidance.

If the sport is not listed, it is not yet considered to be an organised sport.

  • Team sports: you can only participate within the legal gathering limits (outdoors, in a group of up to 6 people, or as a group of two households). A group made up of two households can include more than 6 people, but only where all members of the group are from the same two households (or support/childcare bubbles, where eligible). Social distancing must be maintained between people who do not live together or share a bubble.

  • Contact combat sports: you should not participate in contact combat sports in any number until they have been approved.

This additional measure does not apply to all sports. Sports in which people primarily compete as individuals (such as tennis or golf) are not listed as they do not need to submit their action plans for approval, but you should ensure you are following the sport’s published guidance on how to participate safely.

Spectators

  • Spectators are not permitted to attend sporting events taking place on private land, other than adults needed to supervise under-18s that they have a responsibility for or providing care or assistance to a person with disabilities participating in an organised sporting event or activity. They should maintain social distance and not mix with other households.
  • This does not prevent people from viewing recreational or organised sport that is taking place in a public space, such as a park, in groups of up to 6 people or 2 households.
  • However, sporting events that are intended to attract spectators (including ticketed events), or events that are likely to attract a significant number of spectators (e.g. a major marathon) should not take place in a public space, or on private land, until Step 3.

What you should do (when spectators are permitted):

  • It is important that spectators adhere to the legal gathering limits. In addition to being legal requirements punishable by fines, those violating the measures are endangering public safety and undermining the case for safe sport to be allowed to continue to take place.

  • If spectators do not follow these legal requirements, you (or the sport provider) can ask them to leave or not to attend again. Where there are serious or consistent issues with spectators, the sport’s national governing body may consider sanctions including suspending the relevant sport provider from running any leagues, matches, training sessions or other events or activities until this has been addressed.

  • Social distancing should be maintained by people who do not live together (or share a support/childcare bubble).

  • Spectators should minimise shouting or raising their voices. There is an additional risk of infection where people are shouting or singing in close proximity to others (particularly indoors or when face-to face).

Match officials, medics and coaches

Match officials, medics and coaches should observe the relevant guidance in the same way as participants. Where legal gathering limits apply, people participating in a work or volunteering capacity (such as match officials, medics and coaches) are exempt and therefore not included in the number of participants. However they must remain socially distanced from players where possible during play. Should match officials not be able to remain socially distanced due to their role in the sport, the sport’s national governing body or local provider should conduct a risk assessment to see if other mitigations may be necessary.

Match officials will be empowered to ensure that COVID-secure measures are adhered to, and to enforce this through appropriate sanctions set out by the sport’s national governing body or event organiser.

4. Additional guidance for sport providers

Guidance and approval

All national governing bodies and organised sport providers must undertake a risk assessment for their sport or activity and publish guidance on how people can participate safely, including any modifications required to training or game-play. This should be updated when needed to reflect any relevant changes to measures such as gathering limits. This should be provided by your national governing body (NGB) or organised sport provider or found on their website; you should check to ensure you are following the latest guidance and taking appropriate measures.

Organised sport providers must ensure they follow their NGB’s guidance and have the appropriate measures in place to offer their sport safely. Each provider should undertake their own risk assessment, including ensuring that operators, organisers and volunteers are aware of modifications to game-play or activity structure. They should also write their own action plan to be distributed to all relevant personnel, including coaches and welfare officers.

Action plan approval

Some sports need to have their plans approved before people can participate in them as organised sports.

Team sports and contact combat sports must submit their action plans for approval. You can find more detailed advice in the guidance for safe provision of grassroots sport, which includes the team sport framework, contact combat sport framework, and guidance on delivering sport participation events (such as races and organised walking groups).

Sports in which people primarily compete as individuals (such as tennis or golf) do not need to submit their action plans for approval.

NHS Test and Trace

The rules on NHS Test and Trace have changed.

If this applies to you, you must ask every customer or visitor aged 16 and over to scan the NHS QR code using their NHS COVID-19 app or provide their name and contact details, not just a lead member of the group. This is to ensure everyone receives the necessary public health advice in a timely manner.

Hospitality facilities (including restaurants, cafes or bars within other types of venue) are legally required to refuse entry to those who refuse to check in or provide their contact details.

You can find more information in the NHS Test and Trace guidance.

Many sport providers and facilities are required to keep a record of all visitors, customers and staff on the premises, to support NHS Test and Trace.

Many sport providers and facilities are required to keep a record of all visitors, customers and staff on the premises, to support NHS Test and Trace.

This includes:

  • indoor sport facilities
  • gyms and leisure centres
  • clubs providing team sport activities
  • outdoor swimming pools and lidos
  • sport and massage therapists
  • services provided for social and recreational purposes in youth and community centres and village halls
  • hospitality venues (such as pubs, restaurants, cafes and bars) within a sport facility

However this does not apply to all providers and facilities (for example, in outdoor sport facilities in public places it is not possible or practical to collect information from all spectators), so you should check the NHS Test and Trace guidance to see if this applies to you.

If this applies to your sport provision or facility, you need to keep these records for 21 days and make them available when requested by NHS Test and Trace or local public health officials, to help contain clusters or outbreaks. You must also display an official NHS QR code poster so that customers and visitors can ‘check in’ using this option as an alternative to providing their contact details.

What you must do

  • Ask every customer or visitor aged 16 and over to provide their name and contact details.

  • Keep a record of all staff working on your premises and shift times on a given day, and their contact details.

  • Keep these records of customers, visitors and staff for 21 days and provide data to NHS Test and Trace if requested.

  • Display an official NHS QR code poster, so that customers and visitors can ‘check in’ using this option, as an alternative to providing their contact details. However, you must still have a system to collect (and securely store) names and contact details for those who do not have access to a smartphone.

  • Ensure you manage this information in line with data protection regulations.

This is a legal requirement and failure to comply is punishable by fines. Your NGB’s guidance will set out the process you should follow to collect information, and you can find more information in the NHS Test and Trace guidance.

Organising sporting activities

When planning a sporting activity, you should ensure that:

  • All participants and attendees (including players, officials, organisers, volunteers and spectators) are aware of COVID-19 symptoms and the need to self-assess before attending every sporting activity.
  • Any participant or other attendee reporting symptoms does not attend and is directed to follow NHS and PHE guidance on self-isolation.
  • Participants are aware of any increased risk associated with taking part in sporting activity, based on the national governing body’s guidance and risk assessment.
  • Participants are strongly advised to comply with public health restrictions and avoid high-risk behaviour outside the sports setting to reduce the risk to their fellow participants when they do attend.
  • Participants continue to adhere to legal gathering limits before and after sporting activities, act responsibly and limit transmission risk wherever possible.
  • Participants are aware that they are choosing to take part in the modified version of the game, including any relevant COVID-19 measures, and should comply with these measures as a condition of participation.

You should also ensure you are adhering to important safety measures:

  • When spectators are allowed, you should ensure that spectators are following legal gathering limits and do not put the safety of participants at risk. Where it is anticipated that an activity will attract spectators, there should be a named person or persons with responsibility for ensuring adherence with these guidelines and ensuring the facility is COVID-secure. They should carry out and publish a risk assessment for the activity which limits the number of spectators and focuses on the need to maintain social distancing on arrival, for the duration of the activity, and on departure.
  • Ensure you are collecting information from participants, spectators and other attendees, which is detailed enough to allow NHS Test and Trace to contact them if necessary (as set out in the NHS Test and Trace section above). Your NGB or organiser’s guidance should tell you what you need to do, or you can find more detailed advice in the NHS Test and Trace guidance
  • Ensure that all sessions comply with your NGB’s or organiser’s safeguarding policies and procedures, with particular consideration to children and young people, and vulnerable adults who may be less able to understand or maintain social distancing discipline.
  • All clubs running activities for under-18s in out-of-school settings should consult the Department for Education’s guidance on activity in out-of-school settings, which sets out further practical steps providers of community activities, holiday clubs, after-school clubs, tuition and other out-of-school provision for children should follow to minimise the risk of transmission for children attending their settings.

Sanctions for non-compliance

Sporting activities are permitted despite wider restrictions because of the benefits of sport and physical activity for people’s physical and mental wellbeing. If people act irresponsibly when participating in sport (including off the pitch, and when socialising before and after activity), they jeopardize public health and undermine the case for safe sport to take place.

National governing bodies and organised sport providers should ensure that clubs, leagues and providers are running activities safely, and should take action to address any issues. This includes putting in place additional measures or suspending players, teams, leagues or clubs which do not adhere to guidance. If there are serious or consistent concerns with a particular sport which the NGB or organised sport provider cannot or does not address, approval may be revoked so that the sport cannot take place.

Off-field activity

Sport providers should put in place measures to limit transmission risk from off-field activity, including:

  • Limiting the time spent congregating at a venue before and after sporting activity. This could involve having strict meeting times or staggering start times, and advising participants to arrive in kit and ready to warm-up.
  • Ensuring that participants maintain social distancing throughout warm-ups and when not on the field of play (e.g. awaiting substitutions) and limit higher-risk activities like spitting or shouting (particularly when facing each other).
  • Ensuring that participants adhere to legal gathering limits. Social interaction before and after playing any sport should only take place outdoors, in a group of up to 6 people, or as a group of two households. Exceptions may be made where safety and safeguarding measures require this, such as supporting participants with disabilities (though minimal time should be spent waiting or in changing rooms).
  • Avoiding equipment-sharing where possible. For sport and activities involving shared equipment, organisers should limit the number of participants handling the same equipment during warm-ups, and ensure equipment is frequently sanitised. Teams should limit the number of players handling the same ball during warm-ups, and ensure the balls are frequently sanitised.
  • Advising participants to bring their own water bottles and ensure they are labelled or highly distinguishable. Water bottles or other refreshment containers should not be shared under any circumstances.
  • Advising participants to take their kit home to wash it themselves, rather than have one person handling a large quantity of soiled materials. Where kit absolutely has to be shared or kept together (for example last minute stand-in players, shortage of kit, or an essential club function), each person handling it must wash or sanitise their hands immediately after.

On-field activity

All sport providers must follow their national governing body’s or organised sport provider’s guidance on how to participate safely in their sport or activity. This includes any modifications to game-play required (e.g. limits on numbers for indoor activity, reducing physical contact or face-to-face exposure). Providers should also put in place additional mitigations to reduce unnecessary contact, such as removing pre-game handshakes, face-to-face interaction, and scoring celebrations.

Providers should ensure that participants remain socially distanced during breaks in play with spaced areas for equipment and refreshment storage, including officials and substitutes. Coaching staff and substitutes, should, for example, be spread out and avoid sharing a dugout or bench if social distancing cannot be observed.

Water bottles or other refreshment containers should not be shared under any circumstances. Participants are advised to bring their own, in a labelled or highly distinguishable container. Participants should be asked to refrain from spitting or rinsing out their mouths on or around the playing area.

Sharing of equipment must be avoided where possible, particularly that used around the head and face, such as helmets. Where equipment is shared, equipment must be cleaned before use by another person. Sports where a ball needs to be handled by multiple players (such as basketball, cricket, or football) must follow the measures put in place by their national governing body to reduce the transmission risk (for example, by pausing play to sanitise the ball at regular intervals).

Shouting and singing increase the risk of transmission, particularly in close proximity situations or when face-to-face. Coaches and substitutes should refrain from shouting, and those on the pitch should avoid it where possible.

Use of facilities

All facilities providers should follow the guidance for sport facilities. That sets out specific information on how to operate an indoor or outdoor facility safely (including changing rooms and toilets), and measures that should be taken to minimise risk (such as one-way systems, capacity limits and social distancing).

Injuries and emergencies

Injuries should still be treated, as participant safety is of the utmost importance. Physios and other medical personnel should take care to protect themselves and others through rigorous cleaning and personal hygiene, including increasing the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting equipment and surfaces. Wearing face coverings is recommended for both medics and patients, where this is possible and practical.

After contact with an injured participant, physios and other medical personnel should clean their hands thoroughly with soap and water or alcohol hand sanitiser at the earliest opportunity. This advice is applicable to all situations, regardless of whether there was close contact or the minimum social distancing was maintained. They should also avoid touching their mouth, eyes and nose.

Physios and medical personnel should keep a record of each participant they have come into contact with, to support NHS Test and Trace (advice set out above in the section on NHS Test and Trace may be helpful). Records should be kept for 21 days and then destroyed. Those working at a sport event should familiarise themselves with the guidance for first responders, in case of emergency situations.

Published 1 December 2020
Last updated 8 April 2021 + show all updates
  1. Updated to include information on step 2 of the roadmap.

  2. Updated to include changes to national restrictions

  3. Updated guidance covering national restrictions in England from 6 January.

  4. Updated to include tier 4 areas.

  5. Update to clarify personal training in tier 3 and under-18 age limit exemptions.

  6. First published.