Optimism grows for large numbers of fans to return for summer of sport

There is growing optimism within government circles that large numbers of fans will be able to return for a packed summer of sport in England – including the final stages of the football’s European Championship, Wimbledon and the Test cricket series against India – provided the rate of Covid-19 infections continues to fall.

On Monday, Boris Johnson confirmed plans to allow up to 10,000 spectators inside stadiums from 17 May, in time for the final weekend of the Premier League season. However, sources say the goal is to work towards full venues as the summer progresses, especially with all adults expected to be vaccinated by the end of July.

While the prospect of a 90,000 capacity crowd inside Wembley for the Euro 2020 final on 12 July remains unlikely – especially given most fans will be using public transport – the hope is that a series of pilots and research projects will be able to show attending sport events is safe, especially once people have had their Covid jabs.

The culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, signalled the government’s intentions on Twitter. “We aim to remove the remaining restrictions allowing full theatres, sports & business events subject to public health and outcome of reviews. Not before 21st June. If successful this will be a massive step forward!”

A series of pilot events will also run in the spring and summer to see how they can take place without social distancing measures. The EFL confirmed it is hoping the government will allow fans at the League Cup final between Tottenham and Manchester City on 25 April at Wembley as part of a pilot programme. The Football Association is also hopeful the FA Cup final, which takes place on 15 May, two days before the official return of fans, will be used as a pilot.

It said: “The FA is absolutely delighted that fans will be allowed back soon. The game is simply not the same without them and we look forward to the return of full stadiums as soon as it is safe and possible.”

Wimbledon, which begins on 28 June, also welcomed the government’s announcement and confirmed it was working on plans to have full crowds back if it is safe to do so. “We remain focused on developing our plans within the scenarios of full, reduced and no public capacity so that we can remain as agile and flexible as possible to the government and public health situation,” a spokesman said.

The government confirmed that organised outdoor sport will be allowed from 29 March, with tennis courts, football and cricket pitches and golf courses able to reopen.

The ECB said it welcomed the decision as it would permit grassroots cricket in England to start the 2021 season on time. It also indicated it believed fans would be safe when they return in mid-May. “Our leading venues strongly believe they have the technology and knowhow to return capacity crowds and we look forward to working in close partnership with the government to identify ways in which this can be achieved in a safe and controlled manner this season.”

There was also a boost for leisure centres, swimming pools and gyms with the government confirming they would be allowed to open in England on 13 April, providing infection rates continued to fall. However, organised indoor sports, such as squash and Badminton, have to wait until 1 May to return.

The news was broadly welcomed by Huw Edwards, the chief executive of UK Active, who said it would provide “vital clarity for thousands of our members and a long-awaited boost for millions of their customers”.

Leave a Reply