BLOG: AoC Sport July update on safe return to play

Following his recent blog after the change in government guidance on the playing of team sports, Dean Hardman, AoC Director of Sport and Student Experience, is now in a position to provide a further update.

While a number of competitive sports, including indoor team sports, are not yet permitted under government COVID-19 guidance, the Football Association has now provided an update on the return to competitive contact football and this revised guidance has been approved by DCMS and Public Health England. England Hockey expect competitive hockey to resume from September and other sports are expected to follow suit shortly.

This is welcome news – many members’ students and staff will be keen to return to playing these sports and we sincerely hope others are in a position to do the same in due course in an appropriate and safe manner.

However, the fact that some sports can now be played, provided that all health and safety protocols are followed by all officials, spectators and players, does not necessarily mean that all of the teams intending to play in AoC Sport competitions this year are in a position to do so with immediate effect.

We recently announced that AoC Sport leagues and competitions will commence on Wednesday 4 November. We  felt able to make that decision, not because government guidance at the time prohibited playing competitive contact sport, but due to a number of logistical and practical issues that our members told us they were facing and expected to face from September. These include concerns about transportation to games and the prospect of considerably disrupted induction periods for their new and returning students.

College feedback

To gain further insight, we recently surveyed the men’s and women’s football Premier League teams for the 2020-21 season, specifically asking for feedback on when they would expect to be ready to play competitive fixtures, with September or November (our previously announced dates) as the main options.

At the time of writing, 50% of the teams had replied and 62% expected to be ready for November, with the other 38% expecting to be ready for September, with some considerable caveats. These include the need to recruit students and concerns over whether social distancing will allow visitors on site or will require increased staff/student ratios.

Indeed, while FA guidance refers to the return of football in the community, the guidance issued by DFE on the return to education, including the implementation of student “bubbles”, will take precedence in FE environments and necessitate additional considerations and in some cases barriers, for all teams.

Start date

With all this in mind, we can confirm that the start dates of AoC Sport competitions are unchanged from previous communications and will be 4 November 2020. However, we also recognise that some teams will be ready to play prior to this date and, indeed, will strongly wish to do so.

For those teams, we will be offering a fixture arranging service whereby teams can inform us of their available dates, their ability to host and the distance they are prepared to travel and we will match teams accordingly. Anyone interested in this service should email us. 

Finally, we would like to emphasise that FA guidance is very clear about the circumstances under which contact football is permitted to resume and we anticipate this being true of other sports in the future.

Restart protocols

We will therefore require all teams wishing to play in friendly fixtures and in AoC Sport leagues and cups to have the following in place before restarting and submit their confirmation via our survey.

  • Confirm with us they have read and understood the FA guidance
  • All fixtures to take place in accordance with COVID-19 protocols
  • A member of staff identified as a COVID-19 Officer to monitor that guidelines are being followed and communicate updates to staff and students
  • A COVID-19 risk assessment in place
  • Insurance policies checked to ensure they cover COVID-19

Failure to do this will result in teams’ fixtures being cancelled/postponed.

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