National Women’s Soccer League teams are permitted to begin full-team training on Saturday, May 30, subject to state and local governmental requirements, the league announced on Monday. Small group training (maximum of eight players) got the green light to begin on Monday, and a team must complete five days of small group training before progressing to full-team training.
The news comes as the NWSL’s plans for a July tournament in Utah, which would make the league among the first in professional U.S. sports to return to play, continue to move forward. There are questions which still need answering around how that tournament would be conducted safely, and what player protections exist for those who decline to play.
Certain teams still cannot return to small group training in their main facilities due to local restrictions. OL Reign, for example, announced that it cannot train in Tacoma and “will travel to a nearby county that is in Phase Two of the Washington State process for reopening businesses” in order to train with five players at once, plus one member of the technical staff.
“OL Reign is evaluating plans for moving into NWSL’s Phase Three, which may require the club to train outside Washington State,” the club stated in a press release.
It is expected that some teams in markets hit harder by COVID-19 — and, thus, under tighter restrictions for a return to normal operations — would arrive in Utah earlier than others in order to begin training there. The Reign, Sky Blue FC and Chicago Red Stars are among NWSL teams in more effected areas.
The NWSL’s “Phase Two” return to small group training allows clubs to use weight rooms, training rooms and meeting rooms. Essential staff authorized for this phase are coaches, athletic trainers, sports scientists, team physicians and equipment managers. Per the league: “All players and staff members are required to take both an Antigen polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test and an Antibody (IgG) test prior to being present at any group trainings.”
Players will be required to arrive dressed in training gear and wearing masks when arriving and departing facilities as part of phases two and three. There will be no shared water bottles and staff will perform a thorough cleaning after each groups’ use of the facilities.
Guidelines have been drawn up the the NWSL Medical Task Force, which commissioner Lisa Baird said in an April 1 interview with The Equalizer consists of “key physicians from all the teams,” in addition to input from U.S. Soccer’s medical team.
“Following the advice and counsel of our medical advisors, the NWSL is pleased to be taking the next steps to safely return to competition,” Baird said in a statement on Monday.
The following principles apply to all phases of the league’s return to play protocol:
- All activity must follow state and local government and health agency mandates
- Each team must have approval from their medical staff to advance to the next phase
- Teams must limit staff to the essential personnel necessary to conduct each phase of training and competition
- Players will undergo a daily symptom screening prior to entering team facilities
- Players who are fulfilling self-quarantine for any reason are not permitted to train with other individuals or at team facilities
- Players, coaches, and staff who are sick or have close contact with individuals who are sick must inform the team’s certified athletic trainer, stay home, and not participate in training
- All individuals should practice good hand hygiene, and avoid touching their face, nose, and eyes with their hands as much as possible
- All facilities and rooms used are subject to NWSL standards for cleaning, disinfection, and sanitation
- All facility staff, housekeeping, and grounds crew will be scheduled to avoid contact with players and essential staff