KEY UPDATE: Moving to Step 5 of Return To Play guidelines – 02.09.2020

Newbury & Thatcham HC Aug 2020
After the announcement on 7 August to move to Step 4 and update given on the decision making for Step 5, England Hockey has set out the plan for Step 5 and the resumption of competitive hockey.
With the level of uncertainty surrounding Covid-19 and the differing implications for clubs across the country, any plan to resume league and other competitive hockey is now a judgement call for England Hockey. This decision has been taken using the latest information and knowledge that is available but there is obviously a risk of further changes over coming weeks and months. The overriding objective of England Hockey has been to encourage competitive hockey to be played as safely and as equably as possible in the circumstances for all clubs. The forthcoming season will not be ‘normal’, but it can still allow hockey on the pitch to be as fulfilling and enjoyable as normal.
Progress Update & Issues
All previous updates relating to Step 5 have referenced the need for compliance, capability and confidence for hockey to resume. The work done in the last few weeks indicates that capability is still the most significant concern.
More than 75% of clubs have appointed a Covid Officer, which is mandatory for a return to hockey, in the past three weeks.  We offer our thanks to those club administrators that have undertaken the work required by this role to ensure the game is well set to resume. Almost 100,000 players have signed participation agreements and the registers being provided are giving key evidence for the readiness of clubs and players to comply with the expectations of hockey under Covid-19 conditions. Almost 400 pitches are already in use, around half of the normal number during the peak of the season. The pre-season friendlies that have started have helped clubs to understand how to operate in the new normal and iron out issues related to players correctly interpreting the guidance, e.g. the need to socially distance when the ball is out of play and no team huddles or team goal celebrations that break social distancing rules.
All clubs will need a Covid Officer when resuming hockey and we offer our thanks to those club administrators that have undertaken the work to ensure the game is well set to resume. 
Local ‘lockdown’ restrictions are obviously a concern and will continue to be monitored but even the most restrictive currently in place (example here – see ‘Can I Play Sport’) are encouraging the continued provision of organised outdoor sport activity.
The most significant concern remaining relates to the ability of clubs to access facilities. The majority of issues relate to education sites and, with schools only returning this week, many clubs are only now able to resolve the position of pitch availability and usage. Around 100 pitches are currently not available for external use but the picture is becoming more positive on a daily basis. 
The wider government advice also changed for schools on 28 August when the final guidance for their reopening was issued. This change is important as the Department for Education guidance for schools now references the Department for Culture Media and Sport guidance on the opening of community sport facilities. It also advises schools to follow NGB guidance on the provision of sport. England Hockey has issued advice to schools around the provision of hockey. It is hoped that this change in guidance will improve the likelihood of clubs accessing school facilities, although these decisions will be made on a school-by-school basis. This will take some time to work through for clubs and England Hockey is providing tools and advice to help support clubs in making the case for their safe use with schools.
We recognise that some people have concerns over the impact on travel and off-pitch provision – changing rooms and bars – however our interpretation of feedback to date is that teams are confident these issues should not be the overriding factor in determining whether to return to play.
Approach to Step 5
Step 5 in England Hockey’s Roadmap to Return to Play was clearly set out as the resumption of league hockey and a full competitive programme of activity.
In light of the progress made and the desire to get the game back on, the recommendation for the resumption of league hockey and progressing to Step 5 is as follows:
  • Adult League Hockey should start on the weekend of 26 September or 3 October. This will mean a slight delay to a few leagues start date which is solely intended to allow clubs time to secure pitch access arrangements. (nb the EHL Premier Division will start on 19 September)
  • Junior league and competitive activity can resume from 26 September, assuming the appropriate approach to competitive activity is put in place. This is particularly relevant for junior festivals where large numbers could attend and detailed risk assessments specific to this type of activity at the venue must have been undertaken. 
  • All other competitive activity within schools or the Player Pathway can resume in line with the specific guidance for those areas of hockey. 
  • Recommendations for the indoor hockey competitive programme will follow soon.
League organisers are expected to show a good degree of flexibility, particularly in the early weeks of the new season as clubs resolve facility access issues. The recommended league rule variations issued by England Hockey are designed to aid this being done fairly and consistently. We are aware that regional and local leagues are updating clubs on their approach to these in line with the updates from England Hockey.
We also encourage clubs to support neighbouring teams with facility access issues, providing any spare capacity or support accessing local facilities so matches can be played. Some matches might need to be played outside of normal Saturday slots but in the circumstances, this may be a necessity. 
England Hockey will continue to follow government guidance as the circumstances around Covid-19 continue to evolve and will issue updates as circumstances change. 
For now though, let’s get back together and help to get hockey well and truly back!