Dancing on Ice star calls for reopening of Scottish ice rinks

Dancing on Ice star Mark Hanretty has called for the Scottish Government to reopen ice rinks closed due to the coronavirus lockdown.

Mark Hanretty and Libby Clegg in last year's series of Dancing on Ice.

Erskine-born Hanretty, who has previously competed for Great Britain and this year partnered Paralympian Libby Clegg on the popular ITV series, warned in a video that the six month closure could result in the loss of “potential stars” of ice skating north of the border.

Rinks, along with swimming pools and gyms, are not set to open until September 14 at the earliest.

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Hanretty points out in the video that figure skating requires social distancing due to safety - and asks the government to differentiate between youngsters training in the sport and hundreds of members of the public crowding public sessions at ice rinks.

The video also points out that while skaters had “waited patiently” for months, seeing overcrowding and a lack of social distancing in bars and pubs had frustrated them.

Mr Hanretty told The Scotsman: “The prolonged closure of so many ice rinks around the country is dashing the hopes of so many young athletes. My concern would be that we have lost a huge number of potential stars of the future. For young children, if skating is their hobby and they can’t skate for months, they may move on to another sport.

“No-one wants coronavirus to be around and everyone wants the economy kickstarted again, but it doesn’t make sense that we can go to a pub and drink alcohol, but you can’t go to a rink and skate. It’s tricky to comprehend.”

English rinks re-opened this weekend after lobbying from the sport’s body, British Ice Skating, despite levels of coronavirus being higher south of the border than in Scotland.

Simon Briggs, who coaches British ladies champion Natasha McKay and a group of other international level skaters in Dundee, warned of a “lost generation” of British figure skaters. Dundee Ice Arena is the only rink in Scotland which has been allowed to reopen - for a small group of elite skaters only.

It remains closed to the public and for all figure skating training bar high-end international competitors.

Mr Briggs said: “I feel it’s extremely important for rinks to open for many different reasons. Fitness, peoples’ business, mental health and competitive progression, just to name a few.

“We can certainly manage these facilities in a very safe and controlled manner which makes things even more frustrating at present. In addition to this, I feel we risk losing a whole generation of athletes and the longer rinks are closed, the higher that risk becomes.”

Four times British champion McKay said: “I am lucky to be able to return to skating as an elite athlete under the government guidelines, but I can say I for sure felt in a better place when I was allowed back on the ice.

“Having been in the rink and seen the new safety procedures in place, I feel very comfortable that all skaters would be safe to return. I feel for every skater who can not yet get back to doing what they love, and I just hope that rinks will be allowed to open very soon.”

David Thomson, a non-executive director of British Ice Skating based in Dundee, said: “A huge amount of work has gone into the preparation of putting protocols in place for the safe reopening of Scottish ice rinks.

“There are many, many rinks open across the world and there don’t seem to have been any instances of cases caused by the reopening of a rink.

“Skating is a sport, not a leisure activity. We need to continue to encourage young kids who do this as their sport, instead of football, or netball or hockey.

“Skating at this level is a socially distanced sport - there is a huge area, with a small number of people. Skaters need to give each other space or it is dangerous.”

He added: “People have been really patient, but it is time to get back on the ice.”

He said that plans were in place to open a small number of rinks as hubs initially - once the Scottish Government gives the go-ahead - to allow skaters from across Scotland to access the ice.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We know how difficult the current restrictions are for those sectors and activities who are facing a wait before they can resume activities. At present, the indicative date for the reopening of indoor sport and leisure facilities, including ice rinks, is 14 September.

“However we will continue to review the situation to see if earlier reopening is possible, with the intention to provide a further update on 20 August.”

She added: “We have been working with the sector to develop robust guidance and protocols that will allow necessary preparation for reopening indoor facilities and swimming pools and provide confidence for the public and members and staff to return with physical distancing and enhanced hygiene measures.”

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