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English sports venues to reopen on May 17

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed that up to 10,000 fans will be allowed at outdoor sports venues in England from May 17 as the country begins Step 3 of its roadmap out of lockdown.

The announcement means that the final two Premier League match days will be able to go ahead with supporters, with spectators to also return across other sports. Premier League clubs are finalising plans for the return of fans and it was confirmed last week that home supporters only would be permitted.

The Premier League has welcomed the Prime Minister’s announcement, with the league welcoming back supporters for the penultimate match week on May 18-19, as well as the final day of the season on May 23.

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters said: “It will be brilliant to see fans back. They have been hugely missed and the Premier League has not been the same without them. Their presence will ensure a fantastic finale to the end of our season. Although only a small number of home fans will be at our matches next week, this is an important step in our return to normality.

“We will continue to work with the government and other authorities as our priority is to have full vibrant stadiums – including away supporters – from the start of next season. Only then will we get back to the real Premier League.”

A handful of Premier League clubs did welcome back supporters for matches in December as COVID-19 infection rates fell, but fixtures have been held behind closed doors since the return of the year.

Following yesterday’s announcement, the English Football League (EFL) has confirmed that fans will be in attendance for the Championship, League One and League Two play-offs, which begin on May 17. Clubs will determine the safe amount of fans that can attend their games, with no away supporters to be permitted.

The government’s roadmap out of lockdown was first announced in February, with May 17 having been outlined as the earliest possible date for Step 3 to come into effect. The decision to move to Step 3 from next week has been made as COVID-19 infection rates fall and vaccination roll-out continues across the country.

The easing of restrictions will see the majority of the indoor and remaining outdoor economy reopen. Other outdoor events such as conferences, theatre and concert performances will also be permitted. Up to 10,000 fans or 25% capacity, whichever is lower, will be permitted at outdoor venues. For indoor venues, the limit will be 1,000 or 50%, whichever is lower.

A number of test events have been held to assess the wider return of fans in England. Wembley has welcomed fans for an FA Cup semi-final and the Carabao Cup final, and will do so again for this weekend’s FA Cup final, while the final of the recent World Snooker Championships at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre was held in front of a capacity crowd of 980.

Step 4 of the roadmap will come into effect no earlier than June 21 and would potentially allow larger events to take place with no legal limits on social contact. This could pave the way for Wembley to host significantly larger crowds during the latter stages of the UEFA European Championships, with other events such as Wimbledon and the British Grand Prix also in line to welcome larger numbers of fans.

Meanwhile in Wales, the government has given the green light for Championship club Swansea City and League Two outfit Newport County to welcome fans for their upcoming play-off matches.

Swansea will welcome Barnsley to the Liberty Stadium on May 22, with Newport to host Forest Green Rovers on May 18. The Welsh national team’s friendly match against Albania at Cardiff City Stadium on June 5 will also go ahead with 4,000 fans in attendance.

Other test events announced by the Welsh government include the County Championship cricket match between Glamorgan and Lancashire at Sophia Gardens, which begins on June 3. Up to 1,000 fans will be permitted at Sophia Gardens for the match.

Photo by Samuel Regan-Asante on Unsplash