Yesterday (Sunday) saw fans attend a UK sporting event for the first time since March as 1,000 people watched the friendly cricket match between Surrey and Middlesex at the Kia Oval.

The match served as one of a number of events selected by the UK government earlier this month to pilot the safe return of spectators. The upcoming World Snooker Championship at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre and the Goodwood horse-racing festival are also set to welcome a limited number of spectators.

Social distancing guidelines were adhered to during yesterday’s match, with fans seated on alternate rows and two-seat gaps between groups. Hand sanitiser was available to spectators around the ground.

The pilot events are designed to build up to and prepare for the full, socially distanced return of sporting events from October 1. Sports venues in the UK have been closed to spectators since lockdown measures were implemented on March 23.

According to Surrey chief executive Richard Gould, the club received 10,000 enquiries for the 1,000 tickets within an hour of them going on sale.

“To get 1,000 people desperate to come, and more, is great,” Gould said, according to the BBC. “The sun is shining, cricket is taking place and people look happy.

“We’ve got about 100 staff in, so it’s like a 10 to one ratio. This one is not viable in truth but we hope that if trials could get extended, we can then move to a more viable way. People are being really sensible, so if people are being really sensible you can adjust the numbers, so 30 per cent (capacity) is not viable in the long term but it’s a start.

“You’d need to be getting north of 60 per cent or 70 per cent for commercial viability. That’s not going to happen with cricket this summer, but that would be the number that other sports will be wanting to try and get to.”

Meanwhile, a leading government adviser has warned that it may be at least another year before Premier League stadiums can operate at full capacities and has predicted a 25-per-cent limit until then.

In an interview with the Associated Press, James Calder, the chair of the British government committee on the return of elite sports, said that the absence of a COVID-19 vaccine means it may be some time before stadiums are full again.

“Whilst we’ve got a virus around without a vaccine, I think it’s going to be very, very difficult to do,” Calder said. “I really can’t see that happening in the next year. If there’s a vaccine that comes out, that’s been proven to be effective or … if the virus mutates and that isn’t as dangerous, then it may open (stadiums fully) but I can’t see it happening really until next year at the earliest.

“We’re probably looking at a maximum 25 per cent full capacity … perhaps in some stadiums, it may be down to 17 per cent and there’s a financial viability there as to whether it’s viable to open up the stadium.”

Image: Surrey CCC