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Sporting bodies are to lobby the government for a new schedule that would allow supporters back into matches, meetings and events, as the prospect of their returning at the beginning of next month looks increasingly improbable.
Fans had been expected back at sporting events in limited numbers from 1 October. Following the announcement of a series of new measures aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19, the knock-on effects have thrown those plans up in the air.
The measures, which banned gatherings of more than six people, also meant a temporary suspension of pilot events at capacities greater than 1,000 people.
This decision has affected events that had already been scheduled, with League Two side Cambridge on Thursday announcing they would play their fixture with Carlisle – due to host a crowd of 2,500 – behind closed doors.
It has also, however, meant that all proposed events that may have featured bigger crowds further on have not been given the go-ahead.
The government said it is reviewing the 1 October return date. It is thought the government is determined that a full set of pilot events must take place, not only with bigger crowds but at a broad selection of venue and locations, before general readmission of supporters can be allowed.
Any decision to resume a broader programme will be dependent on the rate of coronavirus infections. It will also likely consider less tangible criteria, such as how the return of crowds – even of the socially distanced kind – will be perceived by the public more broadly. This means sport is once again back in limbo.
“We’re awaiting further information from government on how the review will effect second-phase pilots,” one source from a prominent sporting competition said. “We will be guided by the science, as we always have. But do we want fans back tomorrow? Yes, we do.”
The sports industry has worked closely with the government throughout the Covid-19 crisis. A working group led by Public Health England but including representatives from across the sector, including Sport England and the Premier League, were central to the decision-making that allowed competition to resume behind closed doors during the summer.
Some of that work concentrated on the return of fans, known as “Stage Five”, and it is understood research into the safe accommodation of supporters has been going on since the height of the pandemic in April.
That research has fed into guidance released by the Sports Ground Safety authority which zoned in on key areas that help limit the spread of infection. Crowd control at entrances, exits and especially concourses are the most crucial factors. Those new practices cannot be proven to work, however, unless they are tried out on real crowds.
There is disappointment that apparently successful trial events, including the final of snooker’s world championship and recent football matches at Brighton and Cambridge, have now been discounted.
But other ambitious ideas have also been caught up in events, including proposals led by the Premier League that fans should be subject to rapid testing 24 hours before a match.
Such a plan may now also struggle to play well with the public given a nationwide shortage of tests. It is thought, however, that similar technology forms part of the government’s thinking in its mass testing “moonshot” policy.
Even at reduced capacities of 25 or 30% many sporting organisations reliant on crowd revenue would have struggled to make ends meet but a continued total absence is likely to precipitate a broad financial crisis.
Even some clubs in the Premier League are saying privately they need matchday revenues to keep their heads above water. That unease is now likely to be passed on to government.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Sport to lobby government for new schedule on return of fans | Sport