Return to Play: Our view on the progress required to move to Step 5

Bishops Stortford Hockey Club
Almost two weeks ago England Hockey announced that the sport could progress from Step 2 of the Return to Play plans to Step 4. In the short time that has followed, outstanding work has been done up and down the country by so many, to get the sport back on again.

For those that have restarted, the ‘new normal’ of hockey has been sampled and those clubs and players have felt the energy of being back together and picking up a stick again. It has been brilliant to see the spirit that many clubs have shown in being generous in supporting their neighbours and in some cases even their rivals!

For all those that have been able to start, many have not yet managed to access pitches or get all the necessary requirements in place. Serious challenges remain for many clubs with access to facilities on education sites the greatest consistent challenge faced. The scale of this challenge is being understood with schools making decisions on a case-by-case basis as more updates become available from the Department for Education. On top of this, local lockdowns are a growing concern but, apart from some specific areas, the vast majority are allowing sport to continue.

To help encourage hockey to be ready for Step 5 England Hockey recently issued recommended variations to league rules to help clubs cope with the implications of Covid and to make the season operate as fairly as possible. These are available here with all of the other England Hockey guidance. We are grateful for the support of leagues in developing these.

Moving to Step 5 (the resumption of competitive hockey) is therefore a judgement call for England Hockey based on how ready the sport is collectively to play the season. In a previous article the considerations for resumption of competitive activity were set out and these will be key in moving to Step 5. The three requirements were as follows:

  • Compliance – be able to demonstrate how the provision of hockey at all levels can comply with government requirements.
  • Capability – be in a position that clubs and other stakeholders can resume hockey with the infrastructure in place to do so; with access to pitches the most significant issue currently.
  • Confidence – ensure that the hockey community have confidence in the measures that are in place so they can return with confidence to playing.
England Hockey will use these requirements as the basis for assessment of the decision to move to Step 5. A summary of progress so far against each of these is as follows:

Compliance
  • EH sign off from government gives permission for the resumption of competitive hockey, indoor and outdoor.
  • Local lockdowns are not significantly restricting the provision of sport.
  • Since 7 August more than half of affiliated clubs have now registered Covid officers, these clubs represent three-quarters of club players.

Capability
  • 750 registers demonstrating activity now being held at Step 4 across clubs and providers
  • Evidence of significant facility access problems in education sites a concern. We are awaiting the next updates from Department for Education to see if this improves matters.

Confidence
  • More than 60,000 participants (players, coaches, umpires) have signed participation agreements. This indicates a willingness to play under the required conditions and around one third of participants.
  • Many umpiring organisations have been consulting membership now guidance is released.

Overall this is excellent progress in a very short space of time but also a large proportion of the game still needs to be able to make the necessary progress with access to facilities and compliance with standards to be able to resume full competitive hockey.

England Hockey has advised to plan for a ‘normal’ start to the season and continues to do so. The research conducted with clubs earlier in the summer indicated that two weeks' notice was required to alter plans in circumstances such as this so England Hockey intends to make the decision whether to move to Step 5 on 1 September. 

In the meantime clubs are encouraged to continue to ensure they are compliant with the expectations, exploring all options in terms of access to facilities and that players are confident and signing participation agreements. Pre-season friendlies can be sought and played with help continuing to be given to clubs that are struggling to access pitches. The short-term additional burden on volunteers is recognised and all at England Hockey are grateful for the spirit, energy and effort that is going in to get the game back on. The move to Step 5 needs to ensure that hockey comes back together and comes back as strongly as possible.

For all of the latest Covid-19 support and guidance, go to www.englandhockey.co.uk/covid19