According to Premier League chief Richard Masters, fans could be welcomed back to football during the 2020/21 season if ‘clinical passports’ prove to be a success.
Writing exclusively in The Times, Masters confirmed that the organisation was keeping a close eye on the development of clinical passport tech, which is likely to take the form of an app that enables those who have tested negative for Covid-19 to attend wider gatherings.
“Football is not football without the fans,” he wrote.
“The Premier League won’t be fully back until we have fans supporting their teams in person in our grounds — and I would like to reassure everyone that we are doing everything we can to find a safe way to do that.”
While the 2020/21 campaign is scheduled to start on September 12, October has been pencilled in as a date when fans – with social distancing and other safety measures applied – may be allowed to return to the stands. However, the government’s test trials at Goodwood and the World Snooker Championship have been scrapped as the number of cases in the UK begins to rise again.
Football is unique in that singing and chanting are prominent on the terraces, and with excess volume thought to be something of a transmitter of the virus how fans could be kept safe is something of a thorny subject.
It is widely accepted that when fans can return to grounds that numbers will be limited by as much as one-fifth of the venue’s capacity, with only members of the household allowed to sit within a certain distance of one another.
Masters has confirmed that the Premier League is working closely with the Sports Grounds Safety Authority to find practical solutions for the safe return of spectator, while consulting fans over what would and would not be viable.
“We are prepared to help lead football through trials of what is possible, investing in technology and best-practice steps to reduce risk and make the return of fans to grounds viable,” Masters said.
“We are considering all areas of a match day, from ticketing solutions, stadium seating allocation configuration and timed entries, to temperature checks and an in-seat food and drink service for fans.”
Test, Trace and Enjoy?
One pioneering firm is already working on tech that will accelerate the return of fans to live sporting venues as soon as possible.
Prenetics, who have been handling the testing programme and social bubbles of the England cricket team, believe they have a system which will help to prove an individual’s health.
Their ‘digital health passport’ links a person’s complete health history to their mobile phone – including any negative tests for Covid-19.
Individuals that can show a negative test result via the app will then be allowed to enter the stadium using a QR device on their smartphone. It’s a system that airlines are also reportedly trialling.
The chief executive of Prenetics, Avi Lasarow, said: “Currently with the Premier League and the ECB, health passports are being used to link an individual’s biometrics to a COVID test result – allowing players and support staff to access different areas.
“There will definitely be a way forward where fans will be able to link their own test results to a health passport to give them access to a stadium.”