GRASSROOTS sport in Somerset has been reacting to the news that the Mendip, Sedgemoor, Somerset West & Taunton and South Somerset council areas have been placed into Tier 4 by the government.

A rise in Covid-19 cases means that the Somerset area has been escalated from Tier 3 to Tier 4 from today (December 31), and is now under the tightest restrictions.

As well as non-essential shops having to close, and people being limited to meeting one other person from another household in a public outdoor place, the Tier 4 restrictions have an impact on sport.

People may leave their homes to exercise by themselves, with members of their household or support bubble, or with one other person.

Outdoor pools, playgrounds, sports courts, golf courses and horse riding centres can stay open, but gyms and indoor swimming pools, indoor sports courts and dance studios must close.

Elite sport has been granted exemptions, allowing professional athletes to continue to train and compete.

This means that Somerset County Cricket Club's players can continue their preparations for the 2021 season.

It's a different story for non-elite football, however.

The Football Association (FA) guidance states that grassroots football in Tier 4 areas is not permitted, including all training and fixtures - the only exemptions being for under-18s and disabled people.

The ban on training and fixtures includes clubs in Steps 3-6 of the National League System (including the Southern and Western Leagues) and regional National League System feeder leagues (including the Somerset County League), as well as Tiers 3-7 of the Women's Football Pyramid, and all other indoor and outdoor adult grassroots football.

The Southern League had already suspended fixtures, with Taunton Town last playing on November 3, and the league board has now decided to continue that suspension.

This means that matches scheduled for January 9, and the following midweek, are postponed.

The Western League - which features Bishops Lydeard, Bridgwater Town, Shepton Mallet, Street, Wellington and Wells City - saw fixtures played last weekend, but it has now called a halt.

Its statement said: "The Toolstation Western League has suspended league fixtures until January 22, pending the next government review of the Local Authority Tier system.

"The Western League Board had been working with clubs that wanted to continue playing to create a fixture list that facilitated games to take place.

"However, with Somerset put into Tier 4, where playing non-league football is not allowed, the board felt it was not appropriate to continue playing matches until the Coronavirus situation across the leagues area had improved.

"The next review of Local Authority Tiers is scheduled to take place on January 13, following which the board will review their position regarding league fixtures.

"However, the league have reassured clubs that whatever the outcome of the next review, they will be given a reasonable notice period, meaning that fixtures cannot resume until Saturday, January 23, at the earliest."

Other local football leagues, including the Somerset County League and Taunton & District Saturday League, had already suspended fixtures up to January 16, before the latest government announcement.

England Rugby, meanwhile, has also provided updated guidance for clubs and players in Tier 4 areas.

Clubs in Tier 4 areas are advised to cancel any upcoming adult training or fixtures, and while rugby activity can continue for under-18s and people with a disability (as per the general government advice for sport and exercise), those players may only travel within their specific Tier 4 area to train or play, and may only be accompanied by one parent or carer.

Rugby volunteers (including coaches and match officials) should only travel within their Tier 4 area to enable participation for under-18s; additional exemptions are in place for disabled people.

Outside of team sports, facilities like golf course can remain open but players must adhere to additional restrictions.

At Taunton & Pickeridge Golf Club, for example, the sport must be played in two balls only, at ten-minute intervals, and new booking arrangements have been put in place.

Other facilities are now closed, however, such as Ilminster Bowling & Tennis Club, which has "suspended all bowls moving forward until further notice".

Outdoor tennis can continue at the club, but only singles play between two people from the same household or bubble.

It is advised to check with a sports club or facility before attending, whether it is open and pre-booking is required.