Sport is on track to make a grand return, but do the clubs think it's the right time? (Source: Unsplash)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has strongly hinted that we might be close to seeing the return of top-level sport after all competitions were brought to a standstill by the pandemic earlier this year. Discussions of bringing back football, in particular, have been highly publicized as talks have continued. But what about other sports? We spoke to some of Nottingham’s best-loved teams to gauge their feelings on a possible restart.

Robert Lachowicz – Player, Nottingham Panthers

Credit: Panthers Images

The Panthers were in with a real shot of being crowned champions in 2019/20, before their season was declared null and void by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). Left-winger Rob Lachowicz thinks that even though the players are all eager to get back out on the ice, there are certain problems that the sport faces.

“If precautions are not in place once everything starts back up then I would be very concerned about starting to compete again.”

“Everyone I have spoken to is eager to get back at it, but obviously only if it’s absolutely safe. The 2-meter rule would not work purely by nature – hockey is a full-contact sport and players can be in contact with up to 20 different players during a match.” He acknowledges that the physicality and amount of player-on-player contact that goes on in a game might cause ice hockey to be one of the last sports to make a comeback.

With the worrying figures that are circulating regarding the virus, it’s easy to understand that there are some reservations about starting up too soon. “I have not heard yet of any rules that will be made to help cope with the spreading of the virus.

“If precautions are not in place once everything starts back up then I would be very concerned about starting to compete again.”

It’s not just the players who are desperate to see things go back to normal – the fans are also eager to see their favourite team back doing what they do best. “It will be a huge mood boost for the fans, even if viewing is only available online for a while. It is a great outlet and an escape from the current situation. Anything that can improve people’s mindset and help people get through these tough times is a good thing, but we must make sure it’s not at the expense of the players’ health.”

Steve Smith – Chief Operating Officer, Nottingham Rugby Club

Credit: Nottingham R.F.C

Nottingham Rugby Football Club’s season was also cut short by the outbreak, leaving them with a 7th place finish. Chief Operating Officer, Steve Smith, believes the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and the government may be in too big a hurry to get sport back up and running, and that teams outside the top tier may struggle to cope financially as a result.

“Boris Johnson saying that sport is coming back is probably quite naive, because it would have serious implications on clubs. All the testing that would be involved would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds a month. Only the top tiers can really afford to do that.” This raises the important issue that reintroducing sport isn’t automatically a good thing for every club involved – it varies depending on financial capabilities.

“how can we go back to rugby, when we can’t even go on public transport?”

It’s widely expected that if things do resume in the weeks to come, then it will have to be in a behind closed doors format in order to limit the potential spread. However, this proposed solution may cause economic problems of its own.

“If you’re used to crowds of one to three thousand people, and your club makes X amount of money from that, someone needs to cover that. If that did happen, then yes, we’d do it and stream the game online. But, are RFU or the government going to be bothered about paying that sort of cash? You would probably say no.”

It almost goes without saying that the players would be raring to take to the field, but there is an argument that we shouldn’t let that sway the decision too heavily. “A lot of these guys have contracts that clubs can’t keep paying if Rugby isn’t being played. So eventually we might see wages cut down to 50%, 25% or put on furlough completely.”

There is a worry that a dramatic wage cut could drive players to forgo health concerns. “At that point, they’d probably want to risk it. After all, it’s their livelihood. But how can we go back to rugby, when we can’t even go on public transport?”

Michael Temple – Commercial Director, Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club (NCCC)

Credit: Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club

Cricket, compared to the majority of other sports, has the benefit of being non-contact, meaning the door appears to be wide open for a swift return to action. “It’s certainly easier to get cricket back on than something like rugby union, because when it comes to social distancing it’s actually fairly plausible.” Michael Temple, commercial director for the NCCC, fully expects the new programme to be confirmed sooner rather than later.

Despite the mass disruption the virus has caused and the concerns that still remain, the attitude towards cricket seems to be entirely positive. “The quality advice in our game is exceptional. Our medical department, led by James Pipe, has an incredible network of advisors that we’re in close touch with. So, for us, there are no real worries – we trust the information we’re given.”

There have been concerns that rushing elite sport back too quickly might be damaging to players bodies, as they won’t have the usual amount of physical preparation. However, for the NCCC, the worry lies more in the technical side of the game. “The boys are naturally driven to maintain their fitness; the challenge is getting load back into the fast bowlers and the batters getting their eye in.” Coaches have had no active contact with players since the lockdown, so there would need to be a period of substantial training before any official matches take place.

That being said, Michael doesn’t see this being a major obstacle. “Of course, it will take a bit of time to get back up to speed, but the players would find a way. They’re off until July 1st, so if we could host a fixture soon thereafter, I know they’d be ready.”

Although society is rightly hesitant, the attitude here is that elite sport coming back is a win for everybody. “We’re all fidgeting at home, I think we’ve all had our fill of life on lockdown. I think it would be great for both us and the fans to see cricket played at Trent Bridge again.”