UK government spells out test events

The UK government has confirmed that the April 18 FA Cup semi-final between Leicester City and Southampton, as well as the finals of the Carabao Cup and FA Cup, will serve as test events for the return of fans.

Up to 4,000 fans will be permitted at Wembley for the FA Cup semi-final, with capacity to increase to 8,000 for the Carabao Cup final between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City on April 25. It is then hoped that up to 21,000 fans will be allowed at Wembley for the FA Cup final on May 15.

The Snooker World Championships, which take place in Sheffield from April 17 to May 3, will also trial the return of fans, with up to 1,000 people a day to be permitted at the Crucible Theatre. Other entertainment events in Liverpool, as well as three 10k runs at Hatfield Park, also feature on the initial list of pilots.

The pilots will form part of the government’s Events Research Programme, which will be used to provide scientific data and research into how small and large-scale events could be permitted in line with the government roadmap outlined in February. Step 4 of the roadmap, which would come into effect no earlier than June 21, would see no legal limits on social contact and potentially pave the way for large-scale crowds at sporting events this summer.

The pilot events will explore how different approaches to social distancing, ventilation and test-on-test entry protocols could ease opening and maximise participation.

The government said that COVID-status certifications, which would show whether an attendee has been vaccinated, had a recent negative test or natural immunity, will also be trialled as part of the pilot programme. However, the Guardian has reported that these so-called COVID ‘passports’ will not be required for the Snooker World Championships or the events in Liverpool and are instead set to be trialled at later events such as the FA Cup semi-final.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “Our sports stars and great performers need us to find ways to get bums back on seats safely. This science-led pilot programme will be the springboard in getting the buzz back of live performance. We’ve supported the sports and arts with unprecedented sums, but it’s now time to make that Great British Summer of live events a reality.”

Rick Parry, chair of the EFL, which organises the Carabao Cup, added: “The Carabao Cup is a prized asset of the EFL, a great competition for clubs to win and always a fantastic occasion so we are absolutely delighted to see supporters back for the showpiece final between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur, in what will hopefully be another important milestone along the way to a full return of fans.

“Football has lots of expertise in crowd management so we welcome the opportunity to support the government in its Events Research Programme and will also take great pride in hosting NHS staff at Wembley, to whom we owe so much for their momentous efforts throughout the pandemic.”

Under the roadmap outlined by the UK government, up to 10,000 fans could be allowed in English sports stadiums from May 17. Wembley is due to play a key role during this summer’s UEFA European Championships, hosting seven matches including the semi-finals and final.

The 10,000 capacity limit could still be in place for Wembley’s first two Euro 2020 matches: England vs Croatia on June 13 and England vs Scotland on June 18. There is growing optimism that England vs Czech Republic on June 22 – the day after all restrictions could be lifted – can host a significant crowd, with Dowden stating last week that the government is looking at “substantially more” than the 10,000 figure.

Image: Paul Gillett/CC BY-SA 2.0/Edited for size