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West Suffolk Wolves head coach left baffled by alteration in indoor sports restrictions

West Suffolk Wolves head coach Darren Johnson has voiced strong concerns about the impact of losing players from their sport as a result of what he sees as baffling new pandemic restrictions on indoor sports.

The Prime Minister’s address to the nation on September 22 laid down that sports taking place indoors at a non-elite level would no longer be exempt from the rule of six. It later became apparent that under-18s would be exempt.

It means West Suffolk Wolves’ newly-assembled senior women’s team, which had been accepted into Basketball England’s National League for the upcoming season, cannot run for 2020/21 along with the club’s senior men’s side.

West Suffolk Wolves head coach Darren Johnson (centre) is not happy about impact of restrictions on basketball. Picture: Mecha Morton
West Suffolk Wolves head coach Darren Johnson (centre) is not happy about impact of restrictions on basketball. Picture: Mecha Morton

Meanwhile, the club’s age group sides can carry on as usual when the season starts next month. But the under-18 boys and girls’ teams face having players banned from being involved once they turn 18, as long as the current restrictions are in place.

“For the National League Conference, which we play in, it is classed as non-elite, unlike the Premier, so you can be 17 and play in both but as soon as you get to 18 in one you have to stop playing while in the other you don’t. How can they do that? It’s crazy,” said Johnson, who is also head coach of County Upper School’s basketball academy, based at the same Bury St Edmunds venue, which does play in elite leagues.

“I have a player who is 18 in November and we start at the beginning of November, so they play say three games and then cannot play!

“I think it is unfair on the players who are working hard in pre-season to then have their season cut short all because of their age changing, I just do not get it.

“At least if they are starting a season give them the chance to finish it.

“Some of these 18-year-olds will be looking to go to American colleges and their video footage, which the coaches pick them from, will be limited.”

Anybody who is over 17 being effectively banned from playing indoors, with matches seeing five on each team plus replacements, is something he thinks could have a real damaging long-term effect on the sport.

“In this time off they might start different hobbies or find another sport which is allowed, such as badminton or swimming or an outdoor sport,” he said.

“It will make it hard for people to come back, though I’m sure a hardcore will still.”

Basketball England’s latest update, issued on October 2 on their website, confirms that ‘non-elite players who turn 18 during the season cannot play under the Government rules once they become adults’.

In a statement included on the website article, Basketball England CEO Stewart Kellett said: “Since the Government’s disappointing decision we have been working hard with Sport England, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), partners and the NGBs of other indoor team sports to seek a fair, safe and consistent way forward for everyone in our game.”