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English sport welcomes announcement on return of fans

Sports bodies from across England have welcomed yesterday’s (Monday’s) announcement from the UK government that fans could return to stadiums from May 17 as part of a new roadmap for easing COVID-19 restrictions.

Step 3 of yesterday’s roadmap states that up to 10,000 people or 25% of total seated capacity, whichever is lower, could be allowed at large outdoor venues from no earlier than May 17. Step 3 would come into effect at least five weeks after Step 2.

Step 3 would also allow controlled indoor events to go ahead with up 1,000 people or 50% capacity, whichever is lower. Outdoor events at smaller venues will be allowed a capacity of either 50% or 4,000, whichever is lower.

Step 4 of the roadmap, which would come into effect no earlier than June 21, would include no legal limits on social contact, potentially paving the way for large crowds at sporting events later in the summer.

The government also announced yesterday that pilot events will begin in April as part of its Events Research Programme to examine how events with a capacity of 10,000 can take place without the need for social distancing, using other mitigations such as COVID-19 testing.

Following yesterday’s announcement, the English Football League (EFL), whose Carabao Cup final at Wembley on April 25 has reportedly been earmarked as a test event, said it “looks forward to engaging with the government” about its pilot programme.

The May 17 date comes after the end of the EFL regular season, but the organisation is hoping to welcome “as many fans as possible” to the play-off finals later in the month.

The Premier League season ends on May 23, meaning that fans could be allowed on the final day under the roadmap outlined by the government. The Premier League is yet to comment on the announcement but the English Football Association (FA) said it is “absolutely delighted” that fans will be allowed back soon, with the FA Cup final on May 15 also being considered as a test event.

Wembley is also due to serve as the main venue for this summer’s rescheduled UEFA European Championships, which will run from June 11 to July 11. Yesterday’s announcement could potentially mean that England matches are able to go ahead with a significant number of fans in the stadium.

Meanwhile, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), which has a packed summer of events lined up, said in a statement to the BBC: “The ECB welcomes the government’s decision to permit grassroots cricket to return across England in time for the start of the 2021 season. We will continue to work closely with the Welsh government on the return of recreational cricket in Wales.

“We are very pleased to see the return of spectators to grounds from mid-May. Our leading venues believe they have the technology and know-how to return capacity crowds and we look forward to working with the government to identify ways this can be achieved in a safe and controlled manner.”

Stuart Cain, chief executive of Warwickshire County Cricket Club, said the announcement provides “much-welcomed clarity” for cricket and Edgbaston’s conference business.

Cain added: “However, if people can shop at the Bullring and Alton Towers can accommodate thrill-seekers from April 12, why could we not stage spectator pilots at our County Championship matches at Edgbaston at the same time? This would help the wider professional sports industry to be equipped for welcoming more spectators in the following months.

“In early to mid-June we could then work with the government to host increased capacity pilots at the men’s Test matches between England and New Zealand, at Lord’s and Edgbaston, ahead of a full return a few weeks later. It is a big leap to go from 25% to 100% capacity, without pilots in between, to make sure that sport is operationally ready for large crowds.

“Cricket is an open-air sport, and we have the technology, space and operational experience at Edgbaston to deliver a socially distanced experience. So why not get the venues match-fit before letting large-scale crowds back?”

Elsewhere, the All England Tennis Club (AELTC), organiser of the Wimbledon grand slam tournament, said that it is looking forward to working with the government on the return of fans, while the Rugby Football Union (RFU) also welcomed the announcement.

Other major events planned in England this summer include golf’s Open Championship from July 15-18 and Formula 1’s British Grand Prix on July 18.

Image: Jbmg40/CC BY-SA 3.0/Edited for size

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