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Reaction from grassroots clubs as coronavirus outbreak brings sport to an abrupt halt

The unprecedented response to the coronavirus outbreak has seen sport all but wiped out, with multiple managers and players just waiting to hear the fate of their seasons.

The virus has wreaked havoc on the country’s grassroots sports, with governing body after governing body and league after league making the decision to postpone all competition and training in the past week, in light of advice from the government to avoid social contact and mass gatherings.

Football, rugby, hockey and basketball leagues have all been suspended mid-season while the start of the summer sport calendar is in doubt following the number of high-profile events cancelled – including the 2020 Women’s Tour in June – with the cricket season due to begin on April 18.

Paul Musgrove believes the only fair solution is to see the 2019/20 season out
Paul Musgrove believes the only fair solution is to see the 2019/20 season out

The speedway season – due to have started this month – has been pushed back until at least April 15.

Stowmarket Town have a lot riding on the outcome of the next step decisions, having been top of the Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division for the majority of the season.

Their unbeaten campaign so far has seen them stretch their lead to 15 points at the time of the league being postponed, as the Step 5 side’s situation parallels that of Liverpool in the Premier League.

Assistant manager Paul Musgrove (pictured) said: “I have likened our league situation to Liverpool’s – it would be a nightmare if they null and voided the season to be honest.

“We have put in a massive amount of work to get to where we have, so I hope it won’t end up being for nothing.

“The only fair decision for everyone is to finish the season, even if that means the following season starts later, or maybe the league could look at dropping a cup competition to give more space for league fixtures.

“There’s only 10 games left so I think it’s possible, but the only fair way is to finish it.

“I do agree with the decision personally, things are changing so fast and, as much as it hurts me – as a football-oriented person – to admit this, there’s more to life than football; this is about people’s health and that has to take priority.

Bury St Edmunds head coach Nick Wakley is aware of the profound effect of the virus on local clubs' finances
Bury St Edmunds head coach Nick Wakley is aware of the profound effect of the virus on local clubs' finances

“The FA need to make a decision for everyone though, it’s got to follow suit across the leagues and not be left to individual leagues.

“I think we all need to be prepared to consider all options and be a little flexible about finding a solution.

“No one’s experienced this before so it would be nice to see us all pull together to find an answer.”

Bury St Edmunds Rugby Club’s head coach Nick Wakley said they had communicated the news to their players about the club having to ‘shut up shop’ on Monday evening, following an RFU directive.

He said he was due to attend an emergency meeting with chairman David Reid and performance director Terry Sands last night to formulate a plan for all the club’s operations for the next month. But he warned the suspension of sport could have a profound effect on grassroots clubs.

“Look, it is a really dangerous time for community-based clubs, not just for rugby but football as well,” he said.

“The money from people coming in the gate, paying money behind the bar, our community rugby and all the stuff that goes on at the club with the 3G and football makes us a cash-flow business with ins and outs.

“And when that is affected like it is there is going to be some issues and we have to bind together as employees and stakeholders and we will have to look to put the club first and see this tough patch out.”

Another casualty of the unprecedented response to the outbreak has been May 16’s Greene King IPA 7s tournament.

For the Haberden-based club it is their biggest attended sporting event of the year, usually attracting 1,000-2,000 spectators.

But the organisers have fallen in line with the Super Sevens Series – of which it was scheduled to be the first of four linked tournaments across the country – in postponing it until a yet-to-be-announced date.

Fortunately for the women’s squad, they managed to wrap up their season on Sunday, the day before the government issued the advice to cease all sporting activity.

Bury Foxes head coach Sam Bragoli-Jones said: “I’m very pleased we got the season finished before the coronavirus hit.

“We would have been gutted not to play our final game and I feel for the other teams, leagues and sports that are left in limbo, unsure if they will get to finish the season.

“Although it was always going to be hard, promotion was on the table and we would have been gutted to miss out on a chance to compete.”

The National Basketball League have also announced a suspension of fixtures.

Darren Johnson, head coach at County Upper Basketball Academy, said: “Seeing the bigger picture of what Basketball England and all national governing bodies are trying by this decision, by hopefully slowing the spread of this virus, I do support it.

“But as this is the first time it’s happened, is it the right decision? This is something I am sure we will all find in time.

“I know with all professional sporting events being affected and now youth and adult local leagues, it makes us all realise how much our lives depend on sports and how sports affects our day to day routines.

“As hard as it is and as much as I would like to play friendlies, or any game, we need to step back and see why we are asked to stop playing, so we will be taking a break.

“This is the first time since post World War 2 that leagues have been stopped or paused so it feels weird at this point thinking how and when or even if the season will end.”

Meanwhile, the East Hockey League have decided to end the season early, with one weekend of fixtures left to play, using a percentage points basis to calculate the final league positions.

A statement read: “The committee have agreed that the 2019/20 season will be viewed as completed with immediate effect. To calculate final league positions we will use a percentage points basis.

“England Hockey’s advice (is) that all hockey should be suspended to at least April 15. The scheduled league slip dates are well before that date, so could not be used. The committee have also taken notice of advice that the current restrictions will probably be in situ for a few months rather than weeks.

“So to delay the conclusion of this season would have a serious impact on organising the league for the 2020/21 season.”

And Eastgate Boxing Club were due to host their biggest show of the year tomorrow night, featuring two Eastern Counties finals at Debenham Leisure Centre.

But a call-off decision was made on Saturday with an announcement that their gym would be shut to all non-boxers.