An announcement from Boris Johnson today (July 17) paved the way for fans to return to live sporting events as early as October.
The Prime Minister confirmed that a number of ‘trials’ would be run from August 1 to see if social distancing measures and other protocol could be safely introduced in stands and on the terraces.
And Johnson reiterated that any subsequent stadium re-openings would be subject to these trials going successfully.
“We will pilot larger gatherings in venues like sports stadiums with a view to a wider reopening in the autumn,” the PM said.
“From October, we intend to bring back audiences in stadiums.
“Again, these changes must be done in a COVID-secure way, subject to the successful outcome of pilots.”
Sporting events have now returned in great quantity, although the vast majority in the UK and Ireland remain behind closed doors. The Premier League and Championship are entering their final throes, while cricket, golf, snooker and horse racing have also now resumed with strict ‘bubble’ protocol.
An October timeline would, in theory, enable football fans to return to the terraces just a matter of weeks after the 2020/21 season has kicked off, while punters could return to trackside in time for horse racing’s autumn and winter jumps campaign.
World Championship Snooker and Glorious Goodwood On the Menu
Details of the government’s pilot scheme are slowly starting to emerge.
And at the time of writing, a number of sporting events have been put forward as test subjects for the return of fans to sport. These include:
- Surrey vs Middlesex cricket friendly (Surrey, July 26-27)
- Glorious Goodwood (Chichester, July 28-August 1)
- Snooker World Championships (Sheffield, July 31-August 16)
It’s unlikely that these will be ticketed events, and so it’s doubtful that members of the public – aside from those selected to attend – will be able to buy tickets (although that is subject to change). The Racecourse Association has already confirmed that the limited tickets for Goodwood will be offered initially to members and their guests.
The question is how to hold mass gatherings safely. Attendances will be significantly reduced, and at the Crucible for the Snooker World Championships it is possible that seats will be removed from the theatre to retain the one metre gap.
Premier League clubs already have their eye on an October return for fans – albeit not at full capacity, with The Independent reporting that grounds could be allowed up to 40% of their maximum occupancy.
Clubs have already sent out a questionnaire to season ticket holders. This asks for opinions on how match tickets could be distributed fairly (a ballot system has been mooted), how they would travel to the game – Johnson has also announced that public transport will be available in the near future, and the likelihood that fans would be willing to disclose personal information and health details for tracing purposes.
In sports like football and darts, there is the added headache of working out how fans can sing and cheer – loud behaviours, like singing, are still prohibited as they accelerate the spread of the virus. Will fans be willing to wear face masks on the terraces?