UK sports bodies back use of COVID-19 passports

A number of the UK’s leading sports bodies have united to back COVID-19 passports as a “credible option” to ensure stadia and arenas can work to full capacity from June.

An open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, plus the leaders of the other political parties, has been signed by the Premier League, English Football League (EFL), Football Association (FA), Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL), All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC), Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), Rugby Football Union (RFU), Rugby Football League (RFL) and Silverstone Circuit.

It comes as the Government continues its reopening masterplan, which has set June 21 as the date when all COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted and venues can operate at full capacity. Sporting event organisers are currently planning for the return of small numbers of spectators from May 17.

At this stage of the process all spectators will need to follow social distancing requirements and attendance will be capped at a maximum of 25% of larger venues’ capacity. However, this will still be insufficient to end sport’s COVID financial crisis.

At the weekend, the Government 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. Organiser this week said that the final at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre is set to go ahead without capacity restrictions after fan attendance plans for the event were unveiled.

The pilots will form part of the Government’s Events Research Programme (ERP), which will be used to provide scientific data and research into how small and large-scale events could be permitted in line with the roadmap outlined in February.

Looking ahead to June 21, the letter from the sports bodies reads: “It is right that every possible action is considered to secure this outcome as soon as possible, but only for as long as an unrestricted return is considered unsafe to fans, matchday staff and the wider public.

“This includes investigating how a COVID certification arrangement could reduce and then safely remove the requirement for social distancing. There are many issues to be addressed including how the technology would work and its ease of use at major events, for both the attendees and the organisers.

“All of our sports can see the benefit that a COVID certification process offers in getting more fans safely back to their sport as quickly as possible. We know that our stadia can only be fully filled with an assurance process.

“This process must ensure that everyone can access stadia and must include arrangements that would verify a negative COVID test or an anti-body test alongside vaccination certification.

“The final approach must not be discriminatory, should protect privacy, and have clear exit criteria. We also reiterate that certification should not be a requirement for any form of participation in grassroots sport around the country.

“Based on these principles, we support the review of the use of COVID certification for major events. Any final decision on their application should follow an assessment of the evidence gathered in the forthcoming ERP trials.

“We look forward to working with Government and all interested parties, including our stakeholders and fans, to deliver the great sporting summer the whole nation craves.”

In response to the letter, a Government spokesperson told the BBC: “We welcome the constructive approach from major British sports as we explore how testing COVID certification and other steps can help get more fans back into stadiums and other large events safely. We want as many fans as possible to be able to enjoy a great British summer of sport, safely.”

Image: ECB