Major sporting bodies have welcomed the news that outdoor sporting events will be able to accommodate audiences of up to 4,000 from 2 December.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced yesterday, 23 November, that following the end of lockdown spectator sport can resume inside and outside in Tier 1 locations, subject to social distancing guidelines, with audiences limited to 50% of a venue’s capacity, or either 4,000 people outdoors or 1,000 people indoors. The rules are identical In Tier 2 areas aside from outdoor events, with audiences limited to 2,000.
Rugby Union communications director Kathryn Williamson said that once the organisation knows what tier the 82,000-capacity Twickenham stadium will be in, it will consider running the Autumn Nations Cup Final on December 6 as a test event to support the return of fans to stadiums.
“We are reviewing options and working through the details of how we would manage ticket distribution,” she said.
The Premier League welcomed the news that spectators could return to matches for the first time since March and said its ambition is to work with Government to increase attendance to more substantial levels: “Until this can be done, many fans will be unable to attend games and our clubs will continue to operate matches at a financial loss.
“Our priority continues to be the agreement of a roadmap, with DCMS and the Sports Technology and Innovation Group, for pilot events that can help our clubs quickly scale up to larger capacities in line with the Sports Ground Safety Authority’s (SPGSA) COVID-secure guidelines and beyond.
“Premier League clubs have a proven track record of achieving high-biosecurity standards and we believe we can play a significant role in the Government’s rapid turnaround testing initiative.”
A spokesperson for the English Football League welcomed the decision and said the organisation looked forward to re-opening some club stadiums with spectators in attendance: “It is an important step in achieving a return to normal, alongside it being crucial to addressing the significant revenue gap left by a lack of spectators and other revenue streams as a result of the pandemic.”
The EFL, which comprises the Championship, League One and League Two, said it had proven that fans can be accommodated safely at its Covid-secure venues: “Having worked closely in developing the appropriate safety guidance in conjunction with DCMS and the SGSA, alongside undertaking a series of pilot events hosting up to 1,000 spectators in September, EFL Clubs have already demonstrated that they are well positioned to deliver the safe return of fans.”
The League said exit analysis had shown that those who attended pilot fixtures felt overwhelmingly safe and adhered to the necessary protocols: “EFL will continue its work with clubs to ensure that they have the most up to-date safety procedures in place to welcome supporters back as soon as the relevant restrictions are lifted.”
The news wasn’t best timed for the Rugby Football League (RFL), with its season finishing this Friday, 27 November, and the action not due to resume until March.
Speaking to Times Radio, Simon Johnson Chair of RFL said, “We welcome the announcement but cruelly it is just a bit too late for us. We have had to play 90% of our season behind closed doors.
“Crucially we are hosting the Rugby League World Cup in England this time next year and for us the biggest benefit of this announcement is that it now looks likely that the pent-up demand that there is for major sports events will result in us being able to host the World Cup with the expectation that we will be able to have almost full capacity. When we went on sale with the initial ballot the response was overwhelming.”
David Armstrong, the chief executive of the Racecourse Association, said that following last week’s announcement that £40 million of loans would be available to horse racing it was more good news for racecourses across England: “Even with limited numbers, racecourses can start to re‐open facilities for racegoers, hospitality guests and owners. Work continues to prepare for larger-scale pilots across the sports sector and Racing will continue to play a key role in this vital recovery phase.”
Goodwood motorsport director Daniel Garlick said, “We are really pleased to hear the news regarding small crowds returning to outdoor sporting events which is a great step forward for the sports and events industries. At Goodwood, we will be announcing our 2021 event dates soon and whilst current vaccination news seems very positive which is absolutely fantastic, the team are busy planning for every eventuality to ensure an enjoyable and Covid-safe return.”
PGA European Tour championship director Mark Casey said. “We are obviously delighted with the news but in the short term our events are hosted out of Europe until the Spring but this news is good for the events industry as a whole and our planning processes for 2021.”