Roadmap overview: Returning to play hockey

England Hockey Championship Finals
Latest Government Announcement
After the latest government announcement allowing groups of 6 to meet together outdoors from Monday 1 June while following strict social distancing guidelines, we are now updating the guidance for hockey, which will be issued as soon as possible.

Roadmap to Return to Play
When England Hockey took the decision to suspend hockey on 17 March, it was clear that exactly when and how the sport would be able to return would take time to resolve. Until recently the focus has rightly been on the hockey family, demonstrating its collective spirit through support for charities, key workers in clubs and looking out for our local communities or other club members as well as engaging within the hockey community and beyond on social media. The focus has not been on returning to hockey until the last week.

With so much uncertainty the aim has been to make decisions on key issues at the right times. Getting the timing right on this has been particularly tricky and will continue to present challenges over the coming months. The aim of this message is to share what we believe the probable steps are likely to be, and in headline terms, the possible implications for the 2020-21 season.

The considerations set out here are all dependent on the ongoing nature of the Covid-19 pandemic and relevant government guidance. We would encourage our players, clubs and associations to interpret these as a guide and support & align to the work that will need to be done if plans change. At this stage it is not possible to make definitive plans.

Hockey goalkeeper

What will be allowed?
The government alert levels announced on 10 and 13 May - and England Hockey's subsequent response - set out the first clear steps to emerging from lockdown. These alert levels will not relate directly to hockey activity and having reviewed the information from other countries and other sports we have set out five steps to returning to ‘normal’. Three relate to training, and two relate to match play activities. These are as follows:

Training phase
Step 1: Training
One-to-one / household group
Step 2: Socially Distanced Training
Small groups but with social distancing in place
Step 3: Small Group Training
Small group training allowed with some closer contact allowed. Allowing for tackling/marking etc. (some age groups may be allowed to start this stage earlier)

Play phase
Step 4: Local Match Play
Intra club / local matches can happen but restrictions prevent leagues / main competitions resuming (e.g. if travel is still an issue due to car sharing or local lockdowns are in place)
Step 5: Full Competitive Match Play
Full leagues / competitions resume

Since 21 May we have been at Step 1 with one-to-one coaching or household groups allowed to play, as per this England Hockey advice. We will move to the initial stages of Step 2 from Monday 1 June. Detailed information on this will be released as soon as possible after government guidance is made available. 

We do not know exactly when we will be able to progress through each step but hope this outline will assist clubs and organisations scenario plan their return to hockey. Crucially it is clear that facility providers are taking different approaches to the current restrictions and not all clubs are able to access pitches. This is a situation we will continue to monitor and take into account linked to the steps above.

England Hockey will issue the necessary advice and guidance and share good practice with as much notice as we reasonably can in the circumstances.  

Hockey stick and ball

What are the implications of this?
Depending on the timing and pace of progression through the steps there are different implications for the 2020-21 season. These implications are interlinked and complex across the game, and decisions need to be coordinated across key stakeholders to avoid unintended consequences. The timing of decision-making is important to allow adequate planning time but also decisions should not be taken too early in case circumstances change.

For the next 6-8 weeks we recommend continuing to plan for the 2020-21 season as normal (option A below). There is a risk that some pre-season activity may be lost and we recommend organisations aim to minimise financial risks where possible in pre-season. If the season cannot start on time but is only delayed for a short period (a few weeks), we will aim to extend it beyond its traditional late March/early April finish (option B below).      

If neither of the above scenarios are possible we will consider a revised calendar for the 2020-21 season (option C). This would apply if there was insufficient time to run a normal length season. There could also be a time by which a viable competitive season has to start. A range of scenarios are being developed for this and will be consulted upon over coming months with the relevant stakeholders. Option C would only be enacted if there was a delay starting competitive hockey into mid-November (or later) or a second wave of infections caused more significant disruption. 

Finally, there is the possibility an even later start may only allow for a shortened season to take place (option D). The likelihood of implementation of Option C or D will be assessed over the coming months.

Option A - Normal  Season runs normally from September 2020 to April 2021. League fixtures as usual. Adjustments made to league and competition structuring and regulations to cater for managing potential disruption including incomplete season.
Option B - Delayed (similar calendar)Season runs normally but starts later and finishes later than usual, for example the end of October to end of April. Adjustments made to league and competition structuring and calendar depending on time lost. Regulations adjusted to cope with disruption including incomplete season.
Option C - Revised (new calendar)A significantly revised calendar is created for season running in a reduced window – e.g. end November 2020 to end of April 2021. Some activities may be removed in this scenario depending on the circumstances.

Alternative formats for competitions and leagues will be developed including potentially splitting leagues in the latter part of the season to create playoffs.

Consultation on this approach will be undertaken in coming months with this scenario only implemented if there is confidence the timing will allow.
Option D - ShortenedThe season runs in a severely reduced window – e.g. end January 2021 to end of April 2021.  

In this scenario in adult leagues it could be that all play all but only once either home or away.

Beneath these high-level scenarios there are layers of detail that need to be considered and recommendations made, including the different implications for different sections of the sport such as the impact on officiating in each scenario, leagues adapting to issues such as possible localised lockdowns and also for indoor hockey (given indoor sports guidance is likely to be different to outdoor).

Given the complexity of this and the need to communicate at the right time, England Hockey will review the position every three weeks around key government announcements, and will update the position for hockey in England whenever the circumstances change.

Chief Executive of England Hockey, Nick Pink said, "As we all continue to navigate this evolving landscape, the England Hockey team have been working hard to prepare the sport for a return to play and to manage the challenges ahead. By sharing our thoughts openly, we hope it enables the hockey community to work together, to plan ahead, and to help us to come back stronger. We plan to engage with you as much as possible as we look to set a course and encourage as much alignment as possible to ensure the sport as whole can thrive. The long-term health of the overall sport will always remain at the heart of our decisions."

If you have any comments, feedback or input please email: clubs@englandhockey.co.uk

Past and future guidance is/will be available here.