Premier League criticises government’s test events stance

The Premier League has today (Friday) expressed its “concern” at the decisions taken to restrict, and potentially delay, the planned programme for the return of fans to football stadiums, telling the UK Government that more than £100m (€107.9m/$127.9m) is lost to the sport across the leagues for each month played out without spectators.

The Premier League has spoken out after the Government announced that pilot sporting events held in England this month will be restricted to 1,000 spectators amid a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases.

The change came into effect yesterday (Thursday) and applies to all remaining pilot events planned for September. A number of successful pilots have already been held across football, rugby union, cricket and snooker.

A decision on whether fans can return to stadiums on a wider basis from October 1 is also set to be made by the Government. October has previously been outlined as a potential return date for a limited number of fans to return across the board but the rise in COVID-19 cases could make this unfeasible.

The Premier League has now written to the Government, outlining its concerns and stating its belief that measures are already in place that would allow for the safe return of fans. The League said in a statement: “With test events now capped at 1,000 supporters, we believe they will not provide any opportunity to properly test and evaluate measures designed to maximise fan safety. Therefore, Premier League clubs will defer holding test events until a sufficient number of fans are allowed back to enable thorough trials to take place.

“At 1,000 supporters, not only would there be little to learn from a test event, but each match would be heavily loss-making. For each month of the season without fans, more than £100m is lost to football across the leagues, with consequent damage to the local and national economy. It also harms the employment prospects of more than 100,000 people whose jobs depend on matchday activities.

“Our clubs have already prepared test events and can offer larger scale trials to prove it is possible to produce bio-secure, safe environments, as was proved through the successful delivery of Project Restart.

“The Premier League recognises the ambition of the Government’s Operation Moonshot and will support the project’s objectives to get fans back into stadiums. However, we believe measures are already available which would allow the safe return of fans and should also be activated now.

“As the Government begins its review of the October 1 date for the return of spectators to sport, the Premier League asks that the high safety standards which can be achieved by our clubs are fully taken into account before any decision is taken and that sport is not left behind other industries.”

A number of pilot events are scheduled for the rest of September. Football events include Saturday’s Women’s Super League match between West Ham and Arsenal and Non-League Finals Day at Wembley on September 27. The League Two clash between Cambridge United and Carlisle United on Saturday had also been set to welcome 2,000 fans but the match will now go ahead behind closed doors.

Earlier this week, Premier League chief executive Richard Masters said that it is “absolutely critical” for fans to return to grounds as soon as possible, claiming that an absence of supporters could cost clubs as much as £700m over the course of the 2020-21 season.

In an interview with BBC Sport, Masters revealed that disruption at the end of the 2019-20 season cost clubs more than £250m. The new season begins tomorrow (Saturday) with all matches being played behind closed doors.

Image: Premier League