The British government has approved the return of domestic competitive sport behind closed doors from June 1.
Major professional competitions have been shut down since March because of the coronavirus.
But with much of the country still in effective lockdown, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Oliver Dowden, said Saturday the government wants to “re-establish some normality in other parts of our lives” as he announced the return of live sport.
“For more than two months after sport stopped and after weeks of round-the-clock discussions with medical experts and professional sports bodies, I’m delighted to announce today that the government has published guidance which allows competitive sport to resume behind closed doors from Monday (June 1) at the earliest,” Dowden told a Downing Street news conference.
“Football, tennis, horse racing, Formula One, cricket, golf, rugby, snooker and others are all set to return to our screens shortly.”
Horse racing is set to be the first major sport back in action at Newcastle on Monday, with the first Classic meeting of the season, featuring the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket, on June 6.
The guidance, drawn up in consultation with public health officials and governing bodies, forms the third stage of British sport’s return from lockdown.
Stage two, which allowed for close-contact and competitive training for elite athletes, was published last Monday.
It will now be up to individual sports to carry out their own risk assessments, with Dowden saying they “know their sport best”.
As well as ensuring no spectators are present, sports bodies must ensure everyone entering a venue is screened for the coronavirus and anyone suspected of having COVID-19 must be placed in isolation.
Movement channels will be established, while social distancing must be maintained “where possible”, with players warned against physical contact celebrations with their team-mates.
Dressing room use is to be kept to a minimum, although competitors will still be allowed to use showers.
– ‘Football’s coming back’ –
Premier League football is scheduled to restart on June 17.
Dowden added he had set “two challenges” for the return of football, which has a “special place in our national life”.
He said: “First, that a reasonable number of remaining Premier League games will be broadcast free-to-air.
“Second, that the financial benefits of returning will be shared throughout the entire football family.
“I’m glad to confirm today that a third of matches to finish the season will now be free to view including the Liverpool v Everton derby and live Premier League football will be on the BBC for the first time in its history.”
Dowden added: “I can now make it official: football is coming back.”
Premier League chief executive Richard Masters said they “welcomed” Dowden’s statement, adding: “If all goes well, we will be thrilled to resume the 2019/20 season in just over two weeks’ time.”
But racing should be back before then, with horses having been exercised during lockdown.
Delia Bushell, the chief executive of the Jockey Club, which owns several leading British courses, including Newmarket, said: “Getting back is vital for so many livelihoods in our £4 billion ($5 billion, 4.4 billion euros) British racing industry, which plays an important role in the rural economy and in many communities around the UK.”
The England and Wales Cricket Board said Thursday there would be no domestic matches until August 1 at the earliest.
But the ECB still hope to stage a full international programme this season, starting with a delayed Test series against the West Indies provisionally rescheduled for July.
Dowden also said the government wanted to get grassroots sports and women’s teams “back up and running”.
Concerns have been raised that women’s professional sport could lag behind in the return from lockdown but Dowden said: “Visibility matters, and our daughters deserve to see female athletes on the main stage.”
Meanwhile Dowden announced that groups of up to six people from different households will be able to exercise together from Monday.