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Can organized sports resume? What are the safety requirements for sports facilities?

Last Updated: 11/23/2020

Organized Sports

Organized sports activities can resume in New Jersey.

However, all interstate games and tournaments for indoor youth sports, up to and including high school, are prohibited until further notice. In addition, New Jersey, Maine, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, and Massachusetts have announced a regional commitment to suspend interstate hockey competitions for public and private schools and youth hockey through December 31 at a minimum.

Contact practices, no-contact practices, and competitions for sports defined as "Low Risk", "Medium Risk", and "High Risk" are permitted in both outdoor and indoor settings. Low-risk, non-contact sports include golf and tennis. Medium- and high-risk sports include baseball, softball, soccer, basketball, football hockey, judo, boxing, karate, wrestling, rugby, and group dance.

Limits on Gatherings

All indoor practices and competitions are limited to 10 people. However, if the number of individuals who are necessary for practice or competition, such as players, coaches, and referees, exceeds 10, the practice or competition may proceed if no unnecessary individuals such as spectators are present.

Even if this exception applies, the number of individuals at the practice or competition cannot exceed 25% of the capacity of the room, and such limit cannot exceed 150 persons.

Outdoor competitions or tournaments must abide by the limit on outdoor gatherings, which is currently limited to 150 people.

Note: Under Administrative Order No 2020-23, individuals necessary to the performance of an outdoor high school sporting event are not included in the total number of individuals present at the gathering for purposes of the limit on outdoor gatherings. The order sunsets on Monday, November 30, 2020.

Facilities and participants must also abide by a number of health and safety protocols outlined in the Department of Health's "Guidance for Sports Activities," such as screenings for athletes, coaches, and staff; limitations on equipment sharing; and requirements for disinfecting and sanitizing surfaces and equipment.

Staff, parents, guardians, and visitors are required to wear face coverings at practices and games. Athletes are encouraged to wear masks during downtime, but not during physical activity.

The Department of Health's guidance also includes further details on which sports are defined in which category, how to create a sports program preparation plan, how to prepare a facility for sports practices, how to conduct sports practices, and how to prepare for games and tournaments.

Fall School Sports Season

Sports under the jurisdiction of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) or the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) must also abide by those associations' rules.

The final determination on the fall high school sports seasons will be made by the NJSIAA, and school districts will make the ultimate decision on whether teams will resume competition.

Under the NJSIAA's current plan, competition may start September 28 for girls tennis and on October 1 for all other sports except football, which will kick off its season on October 2.

Regular seasons will conclude on October 23 for girl's tennis, November 7 for football, and November 12 for all other fall sports. Limited postseason play will run from October 24 through October 31 for girls tennis, and November 13 through November 22 for all other sports.

Schools that do not participate in the postseason may continue to play until November 22, with the exception being Thanksgiving football games. These are permissible after November 22, at each school's discretion. No other fall sports competition will be allowed after November 22.

For additional information and updates, refer to the NJSIAA's COVID-19 alert page.

NOTE: A student-athlete's ability to participate with their team will not be altered in any way - regardless of whether they participate in remote-learning or in-person instruction.

A new law waives the requirement to complete an annual pre-participation physical examination for any student-athlete enrolled in grade six to 12 who either completed a physical examination during the 2019-2020 school year or completed a physical examination that allowed the student to participate on a school-sponsored interscholastic or intramural athletic team or squad during the 2019-2020 school year.

A student-athlete who has not completed a physical examination within 365 days prior to the first day of official practice in the athletic season is permitted to participate on a school-sponsored athletic team provided they complete the physical examination before the end of the athletic season.

Safety Requirements for Professional and Collegiate Sports Venues

Note: Beginning November 5, employers must adhere to new employee protection guidelines, summarized here. Detailed requirements, as well as exemptions for certain employers, can be found in Executive Order No. 192.

Facilities hosting professional and collegiate athletic competitions must follow health and safety guidelines found in Executive Order No. 157, Executive Order No. 183, and Administrative Order No. 2020-22.

The following summarizes some of the protocols contained in EO 157, EO 183, and AO 2020-22. However, this summary is not a replacement for fully complying with the terms of EO 157, EO 183, and AO 2020-22 and businesses should read the full guidance carefully to ensure full compliance.

Professional and collegiate sports facilities must institute the following policies:

  • Limit attendance for professional and collegiate athletic competitions to the State indoor and outdoor gathering limits. All indoor practices and competitions are limited to 10 people. However, if the number of individuals who are necessary for practice or competition, such as players, coaches, and referees, exceeds 10, the practice or competition may proceed if no unnecessary individuals such as spectators are present.
  • Even if this exception applies, the number of individuals at the practice or competition cannot exceed 25% of the capacity of the room, and such limit cannot exceed 150 persons. Athletes, coaches, referees, trainers, and other individuals necessary to the performance of a competitive sporting event are not included in the number of individuals present at a gathering for purposes of the limits on gatherings, nor are individuals dining at restaurants located within such facilities.
  • Outdoor competitions or tournaments must abide by the limit on outdoor gatherings, which is currently limited to 150 people
  • Restaurants located within such facilities must follow the health and safety protocols for indoor and outdoor dining.
  • Facilities must make best efforts to ensure that individuals in restaurants located within sports facilities remain separate from all other individuals granted admission to the facility.
  • Require workers and customers to wear face coverings while indoors and in outdoor areas when social distancing is difficult to maintain, except where doing so would inhibit that individual's health.
  • If a customer refuses to wear a face covering for non-medical reasons then the business must decline the individual entry into the indoor premises.
  • Limit occupancy in restrooms that remain open to avoid over-crowding and maintain social distancing through signage and, where practicable, the utilization of attendants to monitor capacity.
  • Limit the use of equipment rented or otherwise provided by the business to one person at a time.
  • Provide sanitization materials, such as hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes, to customers
  • Require reservations, cancellations, and prepayments be made via electronic or telephone reservation systems to limit physical interactions.

Source: Executive Order No. 148; Executive Order No. 149, Guidance for Sports Activities; Executive Order No. 161; Executive Order No. 163; https://nj.gov/governor/news/news/562020/approved/20200812b.shtml; Executive Order No. 187; Administrative Order No. 2020-22; Executive Order No. 196