Lancashire FA explains full background to decision to suspend grass roots football

The Lancashire FA has issued a new statement to clarify its controversial decision to suspend grass roots football which caused an outcry among players, coaches and parents.

Sunday, 6th December 2020, 6:24 pm
Updated Sunday, 6th December 2020, 6:30 pm
Dr Sakthi Karunanithi

The FA has suspended all grassroots football activity, both youth and adult, across Pendle, Burnley, Hyndburn, Rossendale, Blackburn with Darwen, Ribble Valley, Preston and South Ribble until January 2021 at the earliest.

The FA explained the decision - communicated on Friday - was taken under the professional recommendation of Public Health for Lancashire, Public Health for Blackburn and Darwen, Public Health England and the Local Resilience Forum in Lancashire.

In its statement, the Lancashire FA said it was "saddened" to have witnessed the level of abusive messages that had been directed at Chief Executive Officer, Simon Gerrard, following the publication of his open letter.

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The statement said: "Based on ONS North West data and local experience of managing outbreaks in children, Public Health England estimates that up to 1 in every 33 people could be carrying COVID-19 without symptoms in the East Lancashire areas.

"Football, even outdoors, still involves an element of close contact and heavy breathing, heightening risk. Although presently not available, testing of players is an area being explored collaboratively between Lancashire FA and Public Health to enable safer football activity, and we will update you on this when we are in a position to do so.

"The infection rate for children without symptoms is considerably higher than in adults. In one recent local outbreak, children without symptoms outnumbered those with symptoms by 6 to 1, as informed by Public Health England.

"Local assessment, informed by Public Health England, identified 1 child in every 3 teams could be at a higher risk of passing COVID-19 on, due to not showing symptoms, and with 1 child also eligible to play for up to 3 teams, this can increase the risk dramatically.

"This is especially the case in East Lancashire districts, where levels of infection in school-aged children are high.

"Given the increasing incidence in some districts involving younger age groups, we jointly concluded that, in order to minimise disruption to schools, it would be sensible to pause organised matches in selected districts across East and Central Lancashire until the New Year."

Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, Lancashire County Council's Director of Public Health, said: "Exercise certainly remains really important for people. People are still encouraged to go with their households to parks and exercise in other ways.

"This is a short-term measure and will be reviewed carefully. We aren't far from getting more testing rolled out and vaccines becoming available.

"By working together as a team, we can all help to protect each other."

Public Health in Lancashire is working with the Lancashire FA and local schools to look at future plans for testing, and working with local sports partners to assess the risk for other sports which include close contact.

Lancashire FA added that the timing of the release on Friday was dictated by the timing of both the escalation of its ongoing discussions late Thursday afternoon and into Friday with Lancashire County Council and other parties, and the imminent weekend fixtures.

For the full statement, go to