Boris Johnson has promised to reveal the Government's Road Map to Normality on 22 February, although I have seen this recently amended to 'week commencing' 22 February. Whenever it does get released the Road Map should provide the guidance as to when we can start the 2021 summer bowling season. Bowling has always been included in a group of 'outside sports' whenever restrictions have been introduced or relaxed. There is no reason to expect that they will not be included in that group once again. There has been a successful campaign to include outside sports as one of the earliest beneficiaries of any stepdown in controls as the mental, as well as the physical, health of participants has been recognised.
Local Leagues are holding back on the release of the 2021 fixture programmes until this Road Map becomes available and will provide the guidance we need to open the doors to concrete proposals for the coming summer season.
There has been wide circulation of some dates that are expected to be included in that publication. The reopening of schools to all pupils has always been listed as the first to benefit from any stepdown in controls and the date of 8 March has been repeatedly quoted by Boris as the first date this could happen. The fact that no alternative dates have been leaked suggests that this date will be confirmed in the Road Map.
A series of further releases are planned at monthly or 28-day intervals so that there is time between each stage in recognising any changed element that triggers an upsurge in infection rates and action can then be taken. Outside sports has always been listed with a group for the next stage of returning to some sort of normality. Bowling has always been included under the title of 'outside sport' and there is no suggestion that this has changed at all.
Also in that same group is the reopening of shops. If there is a month gap then bowling could restart after Easter with Tuesday 5 April being a potential start date. This may seem a little ambitious and it would be no surprise to see caution prevail and this be put back another month. This would fit better with the vaccination programme of the Over-70s who could all have completed their second vaccine by the end of April.
At present there is every indication that bowling would be back no later than early May although two things could still impact on that date. if clubhouses are not allowed to open for another month then no access to toilets would cause a significant problem and would stop competitive bowling until that was addressed. The second potential stumbling block could be the success of the vaccination programme. If this continues to pick up a pace and be regarded as instrumental in reducing the infection rate then that would support an early opening for outside sports. However if there is the call for more people to be vaccinated before that opening is confirmed then that could put the start date back further.
Following on a month after the reopening of shops and outside sports is expected to be the reopening of pubs and restaurants although this may be a little early to call.
So when Boris addresses the nation on 22 February bowlers will be looking for a mention of when 'outside sports' can recommence. In tandem with that will be the need to see that access to clubhouse toilets is included. We have every reason to be optimistic but as always caution is the safest way forward and it is unlikely that the Government will take any chances at this, what we hope is. late stage in the battle to combat this pandemic.
Whatever start date we do eventually get will still be subject to social distancing rules and the probable control of maximum numbers allowed around the green. We can live with all those as proven by the Winter League. The return to a system of Tiers appears to be less likely now as it disappears from ministers vocabulary and we wonder what might replace that.
Whether the start date is 5 April or 3 May remains to be seen and leagues will do well to prepare for both dates at this time. The table below has been included on these pages before and remains valid. This gives an indication of the start dates required by each local league to fit in their current fixture programme based on the number of teams as at the end of the 2019 season or included in their 2020 fixture programmes on Bowlsnet.
Only the Veterans 10-Man League has a problem fitting in their current programme if a 3 May is the eventual resumption date. All the other leagues can look forward to an almost normal season but it all depends on the eventual start date.
We will be watching and reporting over the coming week on any developments or leaked whispers on what is in or out of the Road Map so keep visiting the website to stay tuned and then it will be over to Boris.