Cabinet Minister Michael Gove has apologised for keeping the hopes of tennis players alive when he suggested yesterday that lockdown rules in England will ban only doubles but allow for a game of singles outside.
“My apologies, I got this wrong,” wrote Gove on Twitter on Tuesday. “Outdoor leisure facilities including tennis courts and golf courses will be closed from Thursday.”
The government is facing growing anger over the explicit bans on gyms, leisure centres, swimming, and golf that are due to come into force on Wednesday night.
But faint hopes remained for tennis players until last night, with their sport not mentioned explicitly in the guidance.
Answering questions from constituents in a live webcast about tennis and golf on Monday, Gove said that he hoped the government would be publishing guidance allowing people to play if socially distanced.
“You’ll probably be able to continue to play singles tennis,” he said, adding that they were also looking to allow people to play golf together.
The prime minister, however, had other ideas. Speaking in Parliament, Boris Johnson on Monday offered no such concessions when quizzed on the issue of golf and tennis, saying that the government was not going to make an exhaustive list of exemptions.
After a couple of days waiting for clarification, the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) said last night that the government had indicated outdoor tennis courts would be forced to shut. “This is hugely disappointing for all those who love tennis up and down the country,” the LTA said in a statement.
“We will continue to put our case to them ahead of the formal legislation detailing the restrictions during lockdown, which is yet to be published and is due to be voted on in Parliament on Wednesday,” the LTA said. “We will then provide an update on the definitive position of what is and isn’t allowed.”
Other leading organisations from across the sports and leisure industry are still hoping for lawmakers to rethink the rules.
Gyms Pushing Back
Some gym owners have indicated they intend to defy the rules, potentially facing a £10,000 fine.
In Liverpool last month, some gym owners defied the dictate to close down as the city became the first to be put under Tier 3 rules.
The approach of cutting out a means of exercises is “regressive”, according to Humphrey Cobbold, chief executive officer of PureGym, one of the largest gym companies in the country.
“COVID-19 does not transmit in gyms, which have a vital role to play in promoting physical and mental wellbeing and employ hundreds of thousands of people,” Cobbold said in a statement.
He cited industry research that he said showed there was an average of only 2.88 cases of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus per 100,000 gym visits during the second week of October.
Other leading figures and companies in the industry, such as Anytime Fitness, are making similar pleas, and some local gym owners have vowed to defy the ban.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was quizzed by MP James Sunderland on the issue of golf clubs, gyms, and tennis clubs in the House of Commons on Monday.
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.
“That’s why I want everyone to work together for the next four weeks to get the R [transmission rate] under control so we can open things up again in time for December.”