September 22 – Plans for a phased return of fans to watch live sport events in England from October 1 have been scuppered by a surge in Covid-19 cases, a massively disappointing financial hit for less affluent clubs desperate to stay afloat.
The government’s senior cabinet minister Michael Gove said new restrictions being brought in to tackle a second wave meant plans had to be put on hold.
“It was the case that we were looking at a staged programme of more people returning, it wasn’t going to be the case that we were going to have stadiums thronged with fans,” Gove told the BBC. “We’re looking at how we can for the moment pause that programme.
“We’ve been piloting some open air venues and we do want to be able in due course to allow people to return to watch football and other sporting events but it is the case that we just need to be cautious at the moment and I think a mass reopening at this stage wouldn’t be appropriate.”
The government had been planning to allow 25-33% capacities from October 1, giving clubs a funding boost after months of empty stadiums.
Although the risk of spreading the virus outdoors is considered relatively low, the bigger concern is the amount of time crowds will be together travelling to and from events, and entering the stadiums.
“The virus is less likely to spread outdoors than indoors but then again it’s in the nature of sporting events that there’s a lot of mingling,” Gove said.
“We also recognise that sport is a vital part of the life of this nation and we’re looking at everything that we can do to support our athletes, our great clubs through what will be a challenging time.”
Ever since the coronavirus lockdown, football, like most sports, has been played behind closed doors apart from the lower echelons of the part-time game when spectators were allowed in from last weekend.
The latest government move came as leaders of more than 100 sports bodies wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson asking for emergency funding and warning of a “lost generation of activity” because of coronavirus. They are asking for a £1.5 billion rescue package.
Earlier this month, Premier League chief executive Richard Masters said it was “absolutely critical” fans were allowed back inside stadiums as soon as possible and failure to do so would cost clubs £700 million during the 2020-21 season. English Football League clubs lost £50 million in gate receipts last season and estimate a £200 million loss if there are no fans this season.
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