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UK government authorises return of live sport

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London (AFP)

The British government has approved the return of domestic competitive sport behind closed doors from June 1.

Major professional competitions have been shut down since March because of the coronavirus.

But Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Oliver Dowden, issuing the government's 'phase three' guidance, said Saturday: "The wait is over. Live British sport will shortly be back on in safe and carefully controlled environments."

Horse racing is set to be the first major sport back in action at Newcastle on Monday, with the first Classic meeting of the season, featuring the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket, on June 6.

Premier League football is scheduled to restart on June 17.

The guidance, drawn up in consultation with public health officials and governing bodies, forms the third stage of British sport's return from lockdown.

Stage two, which allowed for close-contact and competitive training for elite athletes, was published last Monday.

Sport has now moved closer to resuming, with Dowden telling a Downing Street press conference on Saturday: "I'm delighted to announce today that the government has published guidance which allows competitive sport to resume behind closed doors from Monday (June 1) at the earliest."

It will now be up to individual sports to carry out their own risk assessments, with Dowden saying they "know their sport best".

As well as ensuring no spectators are present, sports bodies must also fulfil several other conditions if their events are to go ahead.

Everyone entering a venue must be screened for the coronavirus and anyone suspected of having COVID-19 must be placed in isolation.

Movement channels will be established at grounds, while social distancing must be maintained "where possible" -- even for substitutes sitting on a bench, while players have been warned against celebrations with their team-mates.

Meanwhile dressing room use is to be kept to a minimum, although competitors will still be allowed to use showers.

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters said they "welcomed" Dowden's statement, adding: "We have provisionally planned to restart the Premier League on 17 June, but there is still much work to be done to ensure the safety of everyone involved."

But while accepting further consultations with clubs, players and managers were still needed, Masters said: "If all goes well, we will be thrilled to resume the 2019/20 season in just over two weeks' time."

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