Inslee gives OK to pro sports to reopen

NFL, MLB still must approve

By Gregg Bell

McClatchy News Service

RENTON — The governor has given the go-ahead for pro sports to resume in Washington.

But the Seahawks and Mariners won’t be practicing until the NFL and Major League Baseball say so.

Gov. Jay Inslee and his office issued requirements for professional sports and amateur and youth sports as part of Washington’s state Safe Start return from COVID-19 restrictions. The “Professional Sports & Other Sporting Activities Phase 2 and 3 COVID-19 Requirements” document from the governor says “all professional sporting activities, including back office operations of up to 50 people, unless a county’s then-current phase permits a greater number of people, full team practices, and spectator-less games and competitions, can resume on June 5, 2020, regardless of phase…”

That means the Seahawks and Mariners can, according to the state, begin practicing here for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic shut down Washington and most of the country in mid-March.

The significant part of Inslee’s directive is that those pro sports practices and spectatorless games can begin as of Friday in King County “regardless of phase.” At noon Friday, Inslee announced King County had advanced to a modified phase 1 in Washington’s Safe Start program. King County has been one of the most restricted counties in the nation.

Inslee’s directive for sports in the state also says the Seahawks and Mariners may return to practice and spectatorless games “if all of the following conditions are met”:

• The organization follows both the league-wide and team-specific “return to play” safety plans.

• The league-wide plan is approved by the players’ association or union representing players of the team.

• The team must report in advance to its respective county health department the dates when full team practices and spectator-less preseason games will occur.

The NFL and MLB have yet to allow their players back into team facilities.

Baseball is having a labor standoff between players and owners over prorated pay and a plan for a reduced number of regular-season games for any 2020 season.

The Seahawks’ and all NFL team facilities remain closed indefinitely to players. The belief is facilities will remain closed to players until the start of training camp. That for Seattle is scheduled to be July 29.

There are some signs of a return for football toward beginning the league season on time Sept. 10. The NFL issued a memorandum to all 32 of its teams saying coaches could return to team buildings beginning Friday, if the teams’ local jurisdictions allow.

King County applied on Wednesday for exceptions to the Phase 1 of Inslee’s Safe Start plan. King County is one of the last in Washington still in Phase 1 of the governor’s four-phase plan to return to normal business and life from COVID-19. On Thursday, the county announced it had submitted to state authorities a request for “to allow for limited openings of businesses in a modified Phase 1 of the Safe Start plan, including allowing some indoor seating at restaurants.”

Friday, Inslee announced King County was now into what he has termed “Phase 1.5.”

The Seahawks as of Friday were awaiting guidance on whether the county being in “Phase 1.5” now means coach Pete Carroll and his assistants can return to work inside the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton.

Inslee’s directive had a separate section for “Outdoor Youth Team Sports and Outdoor Adult Recreational Team Sports, Excluding School-Connected or Administered Team Sports and Junior Hockey.” It states youth team sports and adult rec leagues cannot return to practice or play until a county is in Phase 2.

“In Phase 2, team practice can resume if a) players are limited to groups of five in separate parts of the field, separated by a buffer zone and b) practice can follow social distancing of a minimum of five feet between players with no contact. Each league, organization, or club must publish and follow a “return to play” safety plan. Parents and household members must not congregate on the sidelines during practice.

“In Phase 3, teams can resume playing games. Total gathering at any one game cannot exceed 50 individuals. For sporting complexes with multiple fields or other playing surfaces, the 50-individual limit is counted on a per-field, not a per-complex basis.”

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