EFL clubs cleared to stage pilot events this weekend

The English Football League (EFL) has been cleared to stage pilot matches this weekend, with a meeting to be held with Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden later this week to discuss the wider return of fans from next month.

Last week, the UK government announced that pilot events held in England this month would be restricted to 1,000 spectators. The BBC has reported that a select number of EFL clubs will be able to welcome up to 1,000 fans this weekend, although it is unclear which team will be taking part in the programme.

Clubs had until today (Tuesday) to request for their home matches to be used as a pilot event. Clubs in areas where lockdown measures are stricter will not be able to take part in the test events.

In a letter sent to clubs and reported by the BBC, the EFL’s head of policy John Nagle said: “We cannot guarantee at this stage that all clubs that would like to stage a pilot will be given permission to do so, as only a limited number will be approved. We are still in discussions with regard to pilot matches on other dates.”

Nagles added that the EFL is “very much in the government’s hands” on the matter and apologised to clubs for the “late notice and short timescales”.

An EFL spokesman told the BBC that the body remains in talks with the government about the pilot programme, which may include further matches capped at 1,000 fans this month.

The spokesman added: “The League is clear in its view that social distancing can be applied safely in football stadia and that having crowds at matches is an absolutely essential part of helping to protect club finances, which remain under extreme pressure. Therefore, the successful delivery of further pilots will be an important step towards getting larger numbers of fans into grounds safely.”

The UK government has previously targeted October 1 as the date for the wider return of fans to football stadiums and Dowden will meet with sports bodies this week to discuss the matter in more detail.

Following the government’s announcement last week that pilot events would be restricted to 1,000 fans, the Premier League expressed its concern at the decisions to restrict, and potentially delay, the planned programme for the return of fans.