An England cricket Test match at Edgbaston Stadium has been named in the UK government’s second phase of pilot events for reopening in England, with horse racing’s Royal Ascot and UEFA Euro 2020 group stage games at Wembley Stadium expected to follow.
The announcement today (Wednesday) comes after it emerged that the first phase of Events Research Programme (ERP) trial events led to just 15 COVID-19 cases out of more than 58,000 attendees. The government confirmed last month 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, would serve as test events for the return of fans.
The World Snooker Championship, which took place in Sheffield from April 17 to May 3, also trialled the return of fans, with the final at the Crucible Theatre representing the first UK sporting event for more than a year to have a capacity crowd.
Although not officially part of the ERP, the Premier League also saw the return of fans last week for the final two rounds of games in the 2020-21 season.
Announced in February, the government’s roadmap details a phased reopening of sectors, with Step 3 coming into effect on May 17. This phase includes a special provision to allow up to 10,000 people or 25% of total seated capacity, whichever is lower, at large outdoor venues.
The ERP is being used to provide scientific data and research into how small and large-scale events could be permitted in line with the roadmap. The latest set of pilot events is designed to incorporate the period before Step 4 of the roadmap, which would come into effect no earlier than June 21, ending legal limits on social contact and potentially paving the way for large-scale crowds at sporting events this summer.
Edgbaston Stadium’s hosting of the second match of the Test series between England and New Zealand will be the first pilot event within the second phase of the ERP. Taking place in Birmingham from June 10-14, Edgbaston will be able to accommodate around 18,000 spectators each day, 70% of total stadium capacity.
Warwickshire County Cricket Club had been lobbying for its Test match to be part of the ERP. Under the plans announced today, each individual ticket holder must present a negative COVID-19 result from an NHS Rapid Lateral Flow Test, completed within 24 hours in advance of the day they are attending, and give consent to take part in the programme.
The pilot event will be used to analyse testing protocols for all spectators in attendance, the use of social distancing and face coverings when moving around the stadium, and gathering further evidence on the risk of transmission at mass participation events. However, as part of these government protocols, all ticket holders will need to be aged 16 and over.
Stuart Cain, chief executive of Edgbaston Stadium, said: “Whilst public health is the priority, the first stage pilots have shown how people can safely start to enjoy the things they love; live sport and music. It will be great to welcome cricket fans to Edgbaston and give the England team a huge boost as nothing beats the atmosphere that crowds create here.
“Edgbaston is unique as a cricket venue in having such a large stadium footprint, but we also have a vastly experienced operational delivery team, which has hosted many major events and a spectator pilot last summer. We have always been hopeful of featuring in the pilot programme and are delighted for the thousands of ticket holders who will now be able to attend.”
Tom Harrison, chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), added: “Having crowds back into cricket grounds is so important for the game and for our fans too. The last 15 months have shown just how big a role cricket plays in many people’s lives, and we cannot wait to welcome a growing number of fans back to our stadia over the coming months.”
As had already been announced, the BBC reports that Wembley’s staging of England’s first two group games at Euro 2020, which fall before the full reopening target date of June 21, will also be part of the ERP. England play Croatia and Scotland on June 13 and June 18, respectively, with Wembley permitted to have 20,000 fans in attendance.
For Royal Ascot, which runs from June 15-19, permission has reportedly been granted to more than double the originally planned capacity limits to allow around 10,000 spectators per day.