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Why your football match in the park could be illegal from Monday

Rebecca Speare-Cole
·3-min read
As the UK Coronavirus pandemic lockdown continues but with restrictions easing, south Londoners enjoy the last weekend sunshine by playing football and throwing a frisbee in Ruskin Park, a public green space in Lambeth, on 14th June 2020, in London, England. (Photo by Richard Baker / In Pictures via Getty Images)
Londoners play football and throw a frisbee in Ruskin Park, a public green space in Lambeth, south London, 14 June 2020. (Richard Baker / In Pictures via Getty Images)

Outdoor sports will be permitted in England from Monday as lockdown rules are eased – but kicking a football in the park with more than six people will be illegal under new COVID regulations.

The regulations, which take effect on 29 March, outline a new system of “steps” out of lockdown as ministers prepare to ease restrictions in England.

Read: Boris Johnson reveals single biggest mistake made at start of COVID pandemic

As part of “Step 1”, some lockdown restrictions on socialising between separate households will be lifted from the beginning of next week.

Outdoor sports such as tennis and gold will be allowed, and people in England will be allowed to play an organised football match on a pitch outside.

However, it will still be illegal for a group of more than six people to have a casual kick-about in the park.

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Human Rights barrister Adam Wagner comment on the apparent contradiction in the new rules, saying: “Oh, from Step 1 day (29 March) outdoor sports permitted, but not kickabouts in park over 6 people/2 households, has to be organised within the meaning below.

“So you can book a pitch at 5-a-side but not organise one in the park for 10 people who don't live together. Got it?!"

The new regulations for the coming months also include a ban on leaving the country to go on holiday.

People will not be able to travel abroad at all without a “reasonable excuse” otherwise they risk a fine of £5,000.

Watch: COVID-19 holidays abroad - when will Britons be able to leave the country?

The government has provided an extensive list of “reasonable excuses” for travel, including the “Stanley Johnson clause” which allows trips for the “purchase, sale, letting or rental of a residential property”.

Boris Johnson’s father was criticised last July for travelling to Greece to “COVID-proof” his villa for the upcoming letting season despite government advice against non-essential international trips at the time.

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Labour MP Andrew Gwynne told The Guardian: “For hardworking families facing the prospect of missing out on summer holidays, it will stick in the craw that the government has inserted a ‘Stanley Johnson clause’ to COVID rules that allows people to come and go if they have property abroad.

“It seems it’s one rule for them and another for the rest of us.”

MPs will vote on the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps) (England) Regulations 2021 on Thursday, with the laws expected to come into force on March 29.

Watch: 'We did it together' - Boris Johnson hails nation's courage