Covid-19 and amateur sports: the situation in Europe

On October 13, 2020, the Italian Prime minister Giuseppe Conte signed into law a new Decree, effective from October 14 to November 13, containing a number of measures aimed at halting the Covid-19 pandemic.

For what concerns the sports world, the government decided to ban all kinds of competitions and activities related with contact sports at the amateur level. A chart released by the Ministry of Sport and attached to the Decree clarified the meaning of «contact sports:» some examples can be martial arts, group dancing, water polo, basketball, and football.

If in Italy, therefore, sport competitions among friends have been temporarily suspended, what does the situation look like in the other major European countries? Pagella Politica collaborated with international fact-checkers and with members of the SOMA network, and discovered that similar restrictions are currently being enforced in other regions as well.


What’s happening in Italy

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Italian government halted contact sports at the amateur level for the first time with a Decree passed on March 4, 2020. A second Decree, passed on June 11, allowed contact sports to be played again starting on June 25 in those Regions and Provinces that were deemed suitable for such activities by the Health Ministry and sport authorities.

However, the “Comitato tecnico scientifico” (Cts) – a group of experts created to coordinate the management of the health crisis – opposed the decision on June 23rd, claiming that contact sports could have easily led to the creation of potentially dangerous «clusters» for the transmission of the virus. According to the Cts, though, professional competitions played among major teams – the “Serie A” – could start again because in that situation clubs would have been held accountable for the implementation of strict testing and diagnosis protocols.

Nonetheless, on June 24 the Italian Sport Minister Vincenzo Spadafora (Movimento 5 Stelle) endorsed on Facebook the possibility of playing amateur sports as well, stating: «I do not agree with the Cts’ “NO” to contact sports.» During summer, then, several Regions obtained permission from the government to authorize training and competitions at all levels.

As the second wave started hitting the country, though, the last Decree signed on October 13 halted again amateur contact sports at the national level until, at least, November 13.


The situation in Europe

In order to understand whether Italy was the only European country to stop all amateur competitions because of the Covid-19 pandemic Pagella Politica collaborated with SOMA members and with a group of international fact-checkers.

The overall situation is quite fragmented, as several countries have adopted different regulations based on the local levels of risk.



For what concerns Spain, fact-checkers at told us that, while the national government led by Pedro Sanchez has the duty to declare the general state of emergency, decisions related to sport and recreational activities are matters for the 17 individual “Comunidades autonomas” that compose the country.

The situation, therefore, changes from region to region: while Catalonia and Navarra, for instance, decided to halt amateur sports, in Madrid and Andalucia they are still allowed, provided that players adopt at all times the proper safety measures.



Researchers from evAI Intelligence – a company specialized in Artificial Intelligence and part of the SOMA network – explained to Pagella Politica that, in Germany, decisions regarding sports activities fall on the federal States’ governments.

Generally, contact sports were halted in several States – including Bavaria and the Berlin area – in March, and they gradually began again starting in late May. Therefore, it is currently possible to play.

Starting on the weekend of September 19 fans could also return to stadiums, even though in a limited number and in compliance with safety protocols.


United Kingdom

Our colleagues at Full Fact highlighted how, as in the previous two countries, the United Kingdom as well has adopted different measures for different territories.

England is currently divided in three tiers based on the level of risk: medium, high, and very high. In the first situation team sports at the amateur level can be played both in indoor and outdoor locations in groups of up to six people.

In high risk areas, instead, contact sports can be played only outdoors with a maximum of six participants, who also have to belong to the same household or «support bubble.»

The same rules apply to the «very high risk» tier, but the government warned they could change soon.

in Scotland contact sports at the amateur level are allowed in outdoor locations. In indoor spaces, instead, «those aged 12 and over should only participate in organised non-contact sport and should maintain physical distancing.»

Until October 22nd, contact sports were allowed in Wales in groups of up to 30 participants, both indoor and outdoor. On October 23, though, the nation entered a new lockdown phase and all «gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools» were closed, «with a complete ban on outdoor gatherings putting a temporary end to things like recreational group sports.»

Northern Ireland prohibited all group sports and competitions, but «non-contact classes, consisting of no more than 15 people» are allowed in outdoor spaces.



Our colleagues at CheckNews – the fact-checking section at Libération – told us that, until October 15, France was also divided in different areas based on the number of detected Covid-19 cases. Amateur sports were generally allowed in groups of up to 10 people.

Starting on October 16, though, President Emmanuel Macron declared the state of health emergency throughout the whole country and imposed a night curfew, from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., in the Paris region and in eight other metropolitan areas.

For what concerns sports, adopting the needed safety precautions people can still play and train in outdoor spaces. As all other forms of gathering, though, even sports can be played in groups no larger than six people.

Other countries

Members of the SOMA network used Truly Media – a collaborative platform designed to support the verification of digital content – to share with us relevant information regarding the situation in their respective countries.

Researchers at the Institute for Future Media and Journalism at Dublin City University thus explained that, on October 21, Ireland was placed on Level 5 of the «Plan for living with Covid-19,» the one associated with the higher level of risk. For what concerns sports, guidelines clarify that «no training or matches should take place, with the exception of professional, elite sports and inter-county Gaelic games, horse-racing and greyhound racing, which are being permitted to continue behind closed doors.»

In Belgium amateur sports are still allowed, even though with no spectators, while on October 1 Switzerland reopened the gates of its stadiums for up to 1.000 people.

To conclude

In order to stop the spread of the new coronavirus and halt the Covid-19 pandemic, starting from October 14 the Italian government temporarily suspended all kinds of activities related to contact sports and played at the amateur level, including football, basketball, and martial arts.

At a European level, however, Italy was not the only country to adopt similar measures: Pagella Politica conducted a fact-checking analysis in collaboration with the SOMA network and a group of international fact-checkers, and found the situation to be quite fragmented.

In Spain, for instance, restrictions vary across the different regions that compose the country: while in Madrid people can still play – always wearing a mask, – in Barcelona amateur sports have been suspended.

The United Kingdom presents a similar situation: while in Northern Ireland and in Wales amateur competitions have been halted, in England it’s still possible to play in groups of up to six people, while in Scotland all sports are allowed as long as they take place in outdoor locations.

In France, where on October 16 the government declared again the state of health emergency, amateur sports can be played with gatherings no larger than six people.

In Germany, decisions about sport are issued by the federal States, but non-professional competitions are generally allowed since last June.