People movement and crowd dynamics consultancy Movement Strategies has today (Wednesday) been appointed by the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA) to aid the return of fans to English sporting venues, while Edgbaston has been confirmed as the latest stadium to host trial events.

Movement Strategies has been commissioned by the SGSA to support the evaluation of social distancing measures at a series of upcoming pilot sporting events, which were announced last week.

This is a key phase in the UK government’s planning for the safe return of spectators to live sport, enabling its ‘stage five’ guidance to be stress-tested in advance of a proposed re-opening of sports venues in October.

In order to obtain safety certification going forward, all sports venues will have to demonstrate that they are able to operate safely in light of social distancing. The venues in the pilot will be the first to test the proposed changes to the existing licensing processes.

Movement Strategies will be working alongside the SGSA, UK Sport and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to observe these events, for which only a proportion of each venue will be opened up at the pilot stage.

Using a combination of technology and human assessment, the Movement Strategies team will be drawing on its extensive expertise in crowd dynamics to monitor and evaluate spectator behaviour and venue operations in the context of social distancing, and to establish the impact of the measures on the viability of these events.

This will include measuring the time taken to perform ticket, security and temperature checks, so that these can be used by other venues when developing their plans. In addition, the team will review how people move in and around seated and standing viewing areas, toilets, catering facilities and merchandise stands in order to identify how effectively they can maintain social distance if they follow the required protocols.

These observations will provide evidence for how the guidance works on the ground, allowing Movement Strategies to make recommendations on any necessary adjustments and potential impacts as the measures are scaled up. The company is currently working on a number of social distancing projects with venues and workplaces across a range of sectors in the UK and North America.

Dr. Aoife Hunt, associate director at Movement Strategies, said: “Planning the movement of people in sports grounds is always complex, and much more so when considering social distancing. We have gone from planning for large, dense crowds to ensuring that all visitors have enough space to meet guidelines and reduce the risk of virus transmission.

“Movement Strategies has been working with sports venues and the SGSA to understand the challenges that venues now face, and the impact that social distancing will have at every step of the spectator journey. Of course, safety is paramount but it is also important that venue operators protect the fan experience as much as possible.

“Every sporting venue has its own peculiarities, so it is crucial to get an overview of social distancing at different types of sports and venues in order to inform the guidance for all operators. These pilot events are an important step for professional sport in the UK and Movement Strategies is delighted to be able to apply its expertise to help operators tackle unprecedented crowd planning challenges and enable supporters to enjoy live sport safely once venues are permitted to re-open.”

The government on Friday announced that a small number of English sporting events will be used to pilot the safe return of spectators through late July and early August. The government said the events had been “carefully selected” to represent a range of sports and indoor and outdoor spectator environments.

They include two men’s county cricket friendly matches – with the first being Surrey v Middlesex at The Kia Oval on July 26-27 – the World Snooker Championship at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre from July 31, and the Goodwood horse racing festival on August 1.

UK sports venues have been closed to spectators since lockdown measures were implemented on March 23. Following discussions with the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and the DCMS, Warwickshire County Cricket Club has today said it will host the second cricket match under the pilot programme.

Warwickshire members will have the opportunity to apply for a limited number of complimentary tickets to watch the second day of the red ball friendly match with Worcestershire at Edgbaston on July 28. The game will operate with a limited capacity and through a reserved seating model.

Craig Flindall, interim CEO of Warwickshire, said: “We have good space and excellent facilities at Edgbaston to support this first stage trial.

“Our ticketing and operations teams are now working closely with our partners Secutix and The Ticket Factory to create a safe and socially distanced match day operation, and it is very exciting that this process can support the wider return of spectators at live sports events.”

A maximum of 1,000 spectators will be allowed per day for the pilot. The Kia Oval will host supporters for both days of its two-day friendly.

Image: Warwickshire CCC