The National Health Service website currently shows, as you would expect, a constantly updated section on the coronavirus pandemic. On other pages it continues to talk up what it calls “a miracle cure” which can “reduce your risk of major illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer by up to 50% and lower your risk of early death by up to 30%.” 

The cure, it says, is “free, easy to take, has an immediate effect and you don’t need a GP to get some. Its name? Exercise”.

On another section of the NHS website headed “Stress Busters” readers are further advised to “connect with people”; to “take some time for socialising”; and to set themselves “goals and challenges….such as learning a new sport”.

It’s ironic, then, that, in the name of protection from a virus that seems to be striking most harmfully at people who are already in poor physical shape, the health benefits of playing sport have been so comprehensively cut off – for who knows how long.

Direct Physical Contact

Sports involving direct physical contact have been obvious casualties of directives designed to lower, if not eradicate, viral transmissions.

Suspension of not only the Premier League but most other professional football announced on 13th March seemed in some ways the trigger for wider social disengagement.  After PM Boris Johnson’s speech of the following Monday warning against, if not quite outlawing, “unnecessary social contact”, shutdown of the sport has extended to all grassroots levels – training as well as matches.

Hastings & Bexhill rugby club had their Kent Vase match against Kings College Hospital on the 14th blanked out because of the more pressing concerns of their medic visitors – but, then on the following Monday, the national RFU suspended all rugby activity at both professional and community level, including club training. Regional hockey authorities issued similar edicts.

The start of the 2020 cricket season has been postponed indefinitely, with “all forms” of recreational cricket suspended by the English Cricket Board, including “training, pre-season friendlies and any associated cricket activity”. 

Martial arts that necessarily involve close contact between contestants are another class of sport with no alternative to suspension. The Fighters Loft kickboxing gym, featured in HIP in January, is closing, though intending to offer “virtual classes via Facebook live”. West Hill Boxing Club, which managed to stay open all through the Second World War, has temporarily closed its gym, albeit with a fighting message to its members – “This doesn’t mean you can sit at home and play computer games, we expect you to keep your fitness levels up. Plenty of mirror work circuits and running. We will probably hold some outdoor sessions at some time too to keep up your fitness levels.”

Empty courts at Amherst LTC
PICTURE: Dave Young

Tennis at a distance

Tennis, a game in which, in singles at least, players are socially distanced at opposite sides of the net, might have hoped to be spared. Both clubs in town, Amherst and The Green, last week advised their members that while all external matches, tournament and formal club sessions were suspended, and social gatherings barred, their respective courts would stay open and clubhouse facilities kept usable for toilet and hygiene purposes. After Mr Johnson’s further edicts of last Friday telling pubs, restaurants and gyms to close, the Lawn Tennis Association directed affiliated clubs to shut off all “social spaces” including changing and toilet facilities. Players were advised not to change ends between games. Coaching was not banned outright if players were kept sufficiently apart, but fresh cans of balls were to be opened for each session with a recommendation that only coaches, and not their pupils, should touch the balls. (How the latter were supposed to serve was not indicated).

Amherst coaching team, 6-0 Tennis, which up to that point had continued with regular sessions for both adults and juniors, promptly announced an end to them. Then came the total lockdown imposed on Monday evening: club tennis courts were now branded as “community spaces” and barred. 

Hastings Half Marathon

All local athletics organisation has also ceased. Hastings Athletic Club has suspended all training as well as competition  “until at least the end of April”; Hastings Runners have issued a suspension notice likewise. The weekly Hastings parkrun on St Leonards seafront is off, with a plea not to arrange group gatherings at any parkrun venues whilst suspension continues.

The Hastings Half Marathon, due to be run this coming Sunday, was cancelled indefinitely. There will be no race this year; 2020 entrants are being offered free entry for next year’s race instead. Race director Eric Hardwick of the Hastings Lions Club issued a statement suggesting that those who were raising monies for needy causes and charities should “still try to run a ‘virtual’ distance at some time to obtain your precious sponsorship for those in need.” He admits, however, that the Lions will not be able to donate to local needy causes nearly £70,000 that was raised and spent last year.

“The Health of all People is what is Important at this difficult time”, Mr Hardwick concluded, “and we would encourage everyone to follow Government guidelines to protect themselves and others from this dreadful virus”.

Arguably, the health of most people would in fact be enhanced by the retention of socially distanced sport. But not even golf now survives: see below. 

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