Lancashire Football Association can today (Tuesday 15th December 2020) announce that following updated professional medical health advice, all grassroots football activity, youth and adult, can immediately restart in eight parts of Lancashire.
These areas are Pendle, Burnley, Hyndburn, Rossendale, Blackburn with Darwen, Ribble Valley, Preston and South Ribble.
This decision was taken in partnership with Public Health in Lancashire and Blackburn with Darwen, Public Health England and the Lancashire Resilience Forum (LRF).
Football will need to strictly operate under the national guidelines provided by The Football Association.
The decision to suspend grassroots football activity in eight areas was taken on 4th December 2020 following lengthy, detailed conversations with Public Health for Lancashire and Blackburn with Darwen, Public Health England, the LRF and Lancashire Police.
Since the suspension, Lancashire FA has been in constant dialogue with all parties, as well as national stakeholders including The FA and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
All parties have actively collaborated to share research and perspectives to identify methods to mitigate the risks originally identified.
This has enabled a change in health advice leading to today’s announcement of the resumption of football activity.
A spokesman on behalf of the LRF said: "Training, matches and tournaments are able to resume once again thanks to strengthened control measures and guidance, which will reduce the risks we’d previously identified.
"These have been introduced since the first decision was taken to temporarily pause the game, and will help to give greater confidence that any significant activity-related Covid transmission will be identified, managed and contained, reducing the risk of passing it on.
"There are several factors which have been considered in reaching the conclusion to restart. The 16-29-year-old rates were increasing or unstable in some of Lancashire's districts in early December. They have now reduced in Blackburn with Darwen, Pendle and Rossendale.
"With schools about to finish for the Christmas holidays, the risk of spreading Covid without symptoms is considered to be lower. This will be kept under review as schools return in 2021."
Local councils will respond to any breaches or exceptions through Covid-19 regulations.
Lancashire FA is grateful for the time and energy provided by all parties to find solutions to enable this result.
Roger Haydock, Chairman of Lancashire FA, said: “As Chair of the Lancashire Football Association, I speak on behalf of the entire Board of Directors to emphasise our unwavering support for the Chief Executive Officer, Simon Gerrard.
"Simon always prioritises the safety of our footballing and wider community, and has worked tirelessly in collaboration with multiple stakeholders and health professionals to find solutions to ensure the game can be brought back safely.
"Placed in an unprecedented situation and faced with professional medical advice that simply could not be ignored, Simon acted diligently and responsibly.
"We are extremely grateful for his leadership of this complex situation, and glad to see this hard work has resulted in a resumption of the game.”
Lancashire FA has made representation to The FA for additional research into player-to-player contact in the grassroots game for both adults and youth, and will be looking to partner with grassroots clubs to advance this research in the New Year. Lancashire FA will also be looking to create partnerships with local clubs to roll out a Test and Play pilot scheme, once again early in the New Year.
Lancashire FA will be working with leagues, clubs and referees to support compliance with The FA guidelines, and will be issuing further guidance in the New Year around reporting tools to ensure that any non-compliance can be dealt with on a case-by-case basis quickly and efficiently without impacting the whole game.
Lancashire FA will also be working with the Local Resilience Forum to support the training of new Covid-19 marshals, who can support the grassroots community with implementing the guidelines required.
Public Health teams in Lancashire will continue to work closely with Lancashire FA and local schools to bring testing to the grassroots community to enable the further safety of our football and wider community.
The decision to suspend grassroots football had been made to protect the health and safety of a vast number of participants and their extended communities in these key areas.
Today’s announcement will be very welcome news to the many thousands of people affected by the previous restrictions; however, Lancashire FA would like to emphasise the need for all participants to follow the guidelines set out to ensure we are all working together to control the spread of the virus, whilst enjoying the game we all love.
The country’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic is an ongoing process and national and local guidance is constantly evolving, and the grassroots football community need to remain flexible to changes which could be imposed in the future.
Lancashire FA would like to reassure anyone who does not presently feel comfortable with resuming football activity immediately that there is no pressure on them to do so. Everybody has a personal choice about when they restart activity, and those individual decisions are respected by Lancashire FA.
To view the latest guidelines FA in full, please visit https://www.lancashirefa.com/covid-19
Original concerns were two-fold, centering on (1) the local Lancashire position of high levels of cases within the local areas, with cases rising in key demographics, schools remaining open and school and football bubbles subsequently mixing, and (2) football-specific risks encountered during player-to-player contact combined with a potential lack of adherence by the football community to Covid-secure requirements.
Jointly all parties recognised that the timing of the 4th December announcement was far from ideal for people. But as with recent changes to the tiers in London, decisions sometimes need to be made on the basis of current or rising risks, and often at short notice, if they are to be effective early interventions to prevent rapidly rising rates of infection.
As part of the considerations from Public Health, they also reviewed the risks associated with netball and rugby.