Students and amateurs brace for return of team sports

With schools back, antsy students are wondering when they can pull on their boots and get back on the sports field.

Female rugby player jumping with a ball

File photo. Photo: 123rf

With now-embedded behaviours of distancing and bubbles, the thought of being allowed to smash into each other for sport felt a long way away. But with recent Covid-19 cases minimal, and no community transmission for six weeks, there’s some hope a restart to organised team sport is around a month away.

Gordon Noble-Campbell, from the Amateur Sport Association, said that’ll be a huge relief to many around the country.

“Everybody that I’ve spoken to that’s involved in sport around New Zealand talks about the huge pent up demand to be able to get out and really enjoy whatever game it might be that is their passion.”

Noble-Campbell said a lot of competitions are aiming towards a mid-to-late June start date, with some hurdles still to overcome.

Gathering restrictions currently limit groups from different bubbles to 10 people. Most team sports can’t be played with fewer than that, so sports bodies are pegging their hopes on a Government review of those rules this coming Monday.

Gordon Noble-Campbell

Gordon Noble-Campbell Photo: supplied

The head of School Sport New Zealand, Garry Carnachan, said schools were exempt from those gathering limits, so some teams were already training with full teams.

“Some are and some aren’t. Principals are doing what principals do really well, and putting their own lens over whether it’s safe or not, and their appetite for [sports],” Carnachan said.

“Within the guidleines of hygiene, sanitisation, contact tracing and physical distancing that schools apply.”

But that’s within one school – teams from different schools can’t yet mix for games, as a combination of schools would fall outside of the exemption and form a gathering with a limit of ten.

More than three-quarters of the 800-odd boys at Wellington’s St Patrick’s College play sport. The school’s director of sport, Jonathan Millmow, said they’ve opted to hold off on trainings this first week back to let students ease in.

He said they’ve got hygiene plans in place for training, when it does start – all hands washed, all personal gear kept that way, and all shared equipment such as balls cleaned after every training.

Millmow said they’ll likely start practices next week for premier teams, and fingers crossed inter-school competitions can start in a month’s time, government decisions pending.

“Mid-June and maybe June 20 we start competition across all of the codes, and we get a 10 to 12 week season, which is shorter than normal, but I think people accept we’re in different times and 10 to 12 weeks is still a worthwhile season,” Millmow said.

With professional sports being treated separately, there’ll be a televised fix for some soon, but at the moment it’ll be strictly vicarious.

Noble-Campbell said nothing can replace amateur sport, and its return will be welcomed – when safe – with open arms.

“Sport and sporting clubs are really the lifeblood and heartbeat of all New Zealand communities. Not being able to get together and enjoy the game in an environment where social distancing and isolating has prevented people from doing so, means now we’re in a situation where everyone can’t wait to get back on the field.”

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