EPCR finals head to Twickenham, Premier League seeking away fan attendance

European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) has today (Friday) announced that Twickenham Stadium will become the new host of its 2021 Champions Cup and Challenge Cup finals with up to 10,000 fans set to be permitted, while away fans will reportedly be allowed as part of the Premier League’s reopening plan.

The EPCR has been seeking a new host venue for its showpiece events after recently announcing that the games would not take place at Marseille’s Orange Vélodrome as originally planned. That decision was made following consultation with the relevant local authorities in France amid the ongoing COVID-19 situation in the country.

In line with the UK government’s roadmap to recovery, up to 10,000 spectators will now be able to buy tickets for each game at Twickenham with the Challenge Cup decider scheduled for May 21 and the Champions Cup final going ahead on the following day. Both matches are subject to licences being granted by the London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames, with tickets to go on sale today.

Rugby Football Union CEO, and EPCR Board member, Bill Sweeney, said: “We’re looking forward to seeing up to 10,000 fans back at Twickenham Stadium again for these EPCR finals and are delighted to be chosen to host the fixtures. This is an important opportunity for us to hold events as part of plans for the return of fans to stadia. We are working hard with EPCR and local authorities to put various measures in place to ensure the safety and well-being of all those attending each match.”

The Vélodrome, home of Ligue 1 football club Olympique de Marseille, is now set to stage the 2022 finals. Tottenham Hotspur Stadium had been pencilled in to host next year’s games, but will now host in 2023.

EPCR has been forced to remove the finals from the 67,000-seat Vélodrome for two consecutive editions. The decision was made to strip the venue of last year’s games due to the ongoing difficulties posed by COVID-19. The final of last year’s Champions Cup was instead held at Ashton Gate in the English city of Bristol. The final of the Challenge Cup was held at the Stade Maurice David in Aix-en-Provence, France.

Marseille was initially awarded hosting rights to the 2020 finals back in 2018. Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was awarded the 2021 matches in May 2019 but will now host the fixtures two years later than originally planned.

“Fans are the lifeblood of European club tournaments and we are delighted to be able to welcome them back in a COVID-secure environment for this season’s finals,” said EPCR chief executive, Vincent Gaillard. “Twickenham has a storied history with club rugby’s greatest tournament, and it will be a fitting venue to see silverware contested next month.”

Meanwhile, The Times has reported that up to 500 away football fans will be allowed to attend games in the final two rounds of action in this season’s Premier League. Clubs are currently preparing to readmit fans in-line with the government’s reopening schedule.

The government’s roadmap details a phased reopening of sectors, with Step 3 – which would come no earlier than May 17 – including a special provision to allow up to 10,000 people or 25% of total seated capacity, whichever is lower, at large outdoor venues.

With pilot events currently taking place across the sports and entertainment sectors, the May 17 date is set to allow the final day of the Premier League season on May 23 to go ahead with spectators. The League is also seeking to reschedule the penultimate round of fixtures so that each of the 20 clubs has a home game with fans in place.

According to The Times, Richard Masters, the Premier League’s chief executive, has written to the 20 clubs outlining that the government is proposing to relax the ban on away fans after May 17. The League is proposing that that 5% of the permitted capacity be reserved for away fans, up to a limit of 500.

Masters has asked for feedback from clubs, stating: “Government has informed us that, as COVID-19 indicators continue to improve, it is planning to relax the ‘no away fans’ stipulation from the Stage Five Guidance, governing the playing of our final match rounds in season 2020-21.

“The return of fans and ultimately full stadiums remains our primary goal, therefore our view is that we must accept the opportunity to host as wide a range of supporters as possible. That being the case, the Executive proposes an away ticket allocation of 5% of available capacity (a maximum of 500 away fans) at round 37 and 38 matches, respecting the £30 (€34/$42) away ticket price cap.”

Image: EPCR