For Jane Allen, the Chief Executive Officer of British Gymnastics, Tuesday was a day of major frustration. She had hoped that, along with pubs, restaurants and hairdressers, the country’s 1,500 gymnastics clubs would be able to open their doors once again. Instead they will remain closed for the time being.
“The indication to us was that July 4 was going to be the time for indoor sport to restart,” she said, speaking to Telegraph Sport on Zoom from her home. “It was even mentioned in the Government briefing last Wednesday. It gave us hope. We had been working towards a day that the Government had come up with, our clubs had put in an enormous amount of preparation. Then to be told it wasn’t actually happening is so disappointing.”
Encouraged by the promise of a restart, the governing body had spent May and June liaising with clubs up and down the country to ensure they were up to speed with new protocols.
“We made sure the clubs realised that how they closed (when lockdown was imposed) is not how they would be able to re-open,” Allen explained. “Everything has changed. It was a big task getting facilities ready. They had to prepare different exits and entry points, changing rooms closed, they were preparing to work in smaller groups, ensuring social distancing could be maintained, doing the things necessary to protect members. And because they are used to working with children, they are already extremely safety conscious. They’ve done a good job. A lot of them sent out videos so members knew what to expect when they returned. But now that is not happening.”
For a huge number of children, the continued closure of gymnastics clubs means no immediate prospect of a return to organised physical activity. Driven by the success of Max Whitlock and Ellie and Becky Downie, 400,000 children aged 13 and under are now members of community clubs, most of which have lengthy waiting lists. But while few – if any – of those youngsters engaging with the beams, bars and floor routines are likely to become the next Whitlock, the importance of gymnastics is that it is a foundation sport, helping to enhance the physical basics – balance, flexibility, bravery – that can be transferred into any sport.