RFU plans return of fans to Twickenham, RB Leipzig to set Bundesliga first

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) has today (Wednesday) revealed plans to return fans to Twickenham Stadium, while RB Leipzig has become the first German Bundesliga football club to confirm the return of spectators to its home.

The RFU has said England will play its rescheduled match against the Barbarians in the Quilter Cup on October 25, with tickets to go on sale today. The number of fans allowed into Twickenham for the fixture is based on social distancing requirements to mitigate against the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Subject to obtaining the relevant license and approvals including those from public health authorities, the RFU said spectator numbers will be up to 20,000; less than 25% of the stadium’s total 82,000 capacity. Attendees can only buy tickets seated together for people in a single household, including their support bubble.

The RFU said the Metropolitan Police is supportive of its plans, which will include numerous safety measures. The RFU will employ above normal staffing levels for the crowd size in order to manage social distancing and safety measures, while there will be mandatory use of face coverings by spectators except when in assigned seats or eating or drinking.

All tickets for the match will be digital, with one way systems established at Twickenham to manage crowd movement and assigned entry gates to minimise the build-up of queues. RFU CEO Bill Sweeney said: “We continue to work closely with government and the local authority on the return of sports fans to the stadium.

“The numbers of fans able to attend, given social distancing requirements, will be significantly lower than normal and subject to final agreement from government. Local resident and spectator safety is our top priority and numerous measures are being implemented for the events that either adhere to or exceed the guidance provided by the government and the Sports Ground Safety Authority.

“A test event will be held to put into practice our operational plans and demonstrate that Twickenham Stadium is well prepared.”

Meanwhile, Leipzig’s health authority yesterday (Tuesday) gave permission for up to 8,500 spectators to attend the 2020-21 Bundesliga season opener against Mainz 05 at Red Bull Arena on September 20. The city said fans will be allowed to attend if COVID-19 infection rates in the region remain at current levels.

The figure of 8,500 represents 20% of the stadium’s 42,000 capacity. Fan attendance will come with some caveats, including an obligation for fans to wear face masks inside the stadium. Tickets will be raffled off among RB’s 22,500 season ticket holders, with fans only able to attend if they are a resident of the state of Saxony.

Bundesliga clubs have been playing games behind closed doors since March, but clubs in the Bundesliga and 2.Bundesliga in August agreed on a set of measures that would allow some fans to return to stadiums for the 2020-21 season.

Oliver Mintzlaff, managing director of RB Leipzig, said: “We are very happy that with this decision we can take a step towards more normalcy. Our thanks go to the DFL (German Football League), the Saxony state government, the health authorities and the city of Leipzig for coordinating the hygiene concept together.

“We are aware of the great trust placed in us by politicians and the authorities and will deal with it extremely responsibly and carefully. The current infection status and any new findings are always decisive for the actual implementation.

“We have prepared for a long time and as best as possible for the return to games with spectators and can now implement this step by step. The basic requirement is the low infection rate that we fortunately have in Saxony. Of course, we would like to see a holistic and nationwide regulation as soon as possible… depending on the respective infection rate. Because the health of the population is still paramount.”

Burkhard Jung, Mayor of Leipzig, added: “With this permit, we want to venture into a bit of normalcy. We are aware that the pandemic is far from over. But wherever possible, people must be allowed – under strict conditions – to get their everyday lives back.”

In other news, Women’s Super League club West Ham has confirmed plans for the first competitive football match played with fans in attendance in England since the COVID-19 lockdown in March.

The WSL match between West Ham and Arsenal on September 12 was last week announced as one of the pilot events to test, on government guidance, the return of spectators to elite sporting fixtures.

West Ham has now said that up to 1,000 of its women’s season ticket holders will be given the chance to watch the game at the WSL club’s new home stadium, Dagenham & Redbridge FC’s Victoria Road.

Image: Twickenham Stadium