Premier League, EFL and FA step up pressure on fan attendance

The Premier League, English Football League (EFL) and Football Association (FA) have called on the Government to apply “consistency in their policy” when it comes to spectator attendance, as a petition launched to support the return of fans sailed through the threshold needed for parliament consideration.

English football’s three main governing bodies yesterday (Tuesday) issued a joint statement ramping up pressure on the Government to reverse its stance on fan attendance in the men’s and women’s game.

The statement read: “With the EFL, Premier League, Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship already staging 11 successful test events recently, we have demonstrated that we can deliver matches safely. The sooner we can return, the sooner we can reunite communities and support local jobs, livelihoods, regional businesses and also the national economy.

“We will continue to urge Government to allow us to return fans safely to stadiums. It is positive progress that major arts and music venues have been told they can run socially-distanced events indoors. And now football should be allowed to do the same – in highly regulated and stewarded outdoor environments.”

The statement comes after the Sports Technology and Innovation Group (STIG), a body formed by the Government to explore means of returning fans to venues, staged its first meeting on September 24.

The STIG met after the announcement from Prime Minister Boris Johnson that the planned socially distanced return of fans to English sports stadia from October 1 had been postponed, due to the rise in COVID-19 infection rates across the country. Following test events across football, rugby union, cricket, snooker and basketball, the pilot programme for the return of spectators to sporting events was also postponed.

The formation of STIG was announced in August. Chaired by David Ross, co-founder of Carphone Warehouse and non executive director of the British Olympic Association (BOA), the STIG’s first meeting was also attended by Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, who has played a key role in producing Government guidance around the safe return of elite and grassroots sport, alongside representatives from the Premier League, Microsoft, Innovate Finance and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), amongst others.

The joint statement from the Premier League, EFL and FA comes amid rising fan discontent on social media, where the hashtag #letfansin has become popular. Indeed, a supporters’ petition entitled “Allow football fans to attend matches at all levels” has been launched, which the EFL and its member clubs promoted via social media yesterday evening.

As of 9am GMT today, the petition had gathered 138,675 signatures. Government responds to all petitions that get more than 10,000 signatures, while those with more than 100,000 signatures are considered for a debate.

In their statement, the Premier League, EFL and FA added: “Representatives from football are active members of the Government’s Sports Technology and Innovation Group, as well as being involved with their ‘Moonshot’ mass-testing project to open up the economy.

“And in light of the postponement of test events we will intensify our efforts to pioneer new approaches – working with epidemiologists, scientists and medical experts in areas such as public health, clinical processes and occupational hygiene. This will make sure stadiums are COVID-safe by considering best-practice screening and hygiene methods to ensure that fans and the general public will be safe and drive the Government’s sporting plans to move faster.

“Stadium environments can be modified and carefully managed. Measures could include screening spectators before they enter the ground, installing temperature checks, requiring masks to be worn, one-way systems and providing a code of conduct for all those attending on a matchday. This will all be bolstered by deep-cleaning practices to help further reduce the risk of virus transmission.

“Clubs want to be pro-active on this matter and are willing to consider measures both in the stadium and on the approach that will allay any concerns as to fans’ safety. From a travel perspective, clubs will work closely with experts and local authorities to model solutions relevant for each stadium to ease pressure on public transport, while extra parking facilities could be available so a greater proportion of you can travel by private car or bicycle.

“We are determined to identify a path forward with Government. We need clarity for our clubs and for you as supporters as to what the roadmap for change in this area looks like. We all know why caution is needed, and we ask Government for consistency in their policy so sport is treated as fairly as other activities currently allowed to welcome spectators.

“So, we will continue to urge the relevant authorities to let us, together, use innovative ways to bring fans safely back into football grounds, starting with a return of the test event programme. If we do so, then the benefits will be felt not just by fans but throughout society and the economy.”

Image: Premier League