The Chair of a football club has spoken of his joy at being able to open and give something back to the local community as sports clubs across the country welcomed back children and young people for organised outdoor sport this week.
As part of the Scottish Government’s route map through and out of the COVID-19 pandemic, restrictions were eased on Monday (July 13th) to permit outdoor contact sport for children and young people up to the age of 17, subject to public health guidance.
Although it has not been a return to sport as we know it, this is the first step towards the return to sport for children and young people, with training permitted but matches and competitions yet to return.
Sports organisations that have opened their doors again have had to operate as per the guidance produced by their Scottish Governing Body of Sport. Measures such as an appointed Covid co-ordinator, strict hygiene protocols and the ability to contact trace participants had to be in place. For young people aged 12-17 physical distancing is only suspended while the sporting activity takes places, distancing guidance should be observed at all other times.
One club able to implement those measures on Monday was Bo’ness United Community Football Club. It is a club that prides itself on its place at the heart of the community, with 266 players across 15 different age groups.
During lockdown the club did all it could to help. Fees were suspended, the club’s fundraising group did collections for the local food bank, delivered essentials to local hospitals and worked with Barnardo’s to provide families with footballs and footwear.
Players and volunteers kept in regular contact through social media and various club challenges and video calls took place with parents, so they knew what to expect when training was able to resume.
Club Chair, Peter Hay, admits it was a huge relief to see the players back on the pitch after four months out of action.
He said: “Everybody was desperate to get back. The kids took all the distancing and hygiene protocols in their stride, it was like they were never away. It’s been tough for the kids.
“Football gives them so much socially, so many basic skills that everyone needs, on top of the physical and mental health benefits.
"To have that taken away at a time when they weren’t at school or able to see their friends and family, it was difficult for them.
“We’re quite fortunate that in Bo’ness there’s a bit of a village mentality, everyone pulls together. Community spirit is huge for us, our ethos is to build a belonging and making sure our roots are in the local community. As soon as lockdown started our idea wasn’t to stamp our feet to get back sooner, it was to plan what we could in line with the guidance to make sure everyone was as safe as possible when we did come back. That’s not to say it’s been easy, but the Scottish FA have been a great help.”
A package of measures was announced by sportscotland at the start of May to help support the sporting system during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. The investment, jointly funded by the Scottish Government and The National Lottery, provided Scottish Governing Bodies of Sport and local partners across the system with £16.4m in April/May while targets and outcomes attached to funding were relaxed.
Scottish Government National Clinical Director Jason Leitch said:
“Being physically active is obviously important for our physical health but it’s great for mental well health too.
"It’s great to see young people back enjoying being able to see their friends again and participate in sport, which helps them to build strong muscles and bones, while maintaining a healthy weight.
“Our national physical activity guidelines suggest that children and young people stay active for an average of at least 60 minutes per day. Unfortunately the necessary lockdown restrictions made that very difficult for some children, so I hope that they can now unlock all the benefits that this latest development brings.”
Stewart Harris, Chief Executive of sportscotland: “It is another positive step for sport that public health guidelines have been extended further as part of the Scottish Government’s route map through the pandemic.
“Lockdown has been extremely difficult for us all, but it is great that children and young people who have been unable to go to school or see friends and family can now enjoy organised sport outdoors.
"While this is good news, it is not a return to sport as we know it and the most pressing priority remains public health and wellbeing. It is crucial that participants, and everyone connected with sport in Scotland, continue to adhere to the latest government guidance and the advice issued by the governing body of each sport.”
Andy Gould, Scottish FA Head of Football Development:
“The move in to Phase Three and the gradual return for football has been a hugely positive step for hundreds of thousands of people all across Scotland.
"We would firstly like to thank clubs, coaches and players at all levels of the game for their patience, understanding and support during what has been a challenging period.
“We find ourselves at a critical point as football returns in the form of eased restrictions around training. We continue to ask everyone involved in the game to keep following our guidelines as we strive to move to the next phase of the return for football.”