Premier League sets out ‘concern’ over delay to return of fans

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The Premier League has urged the government not to delay plans for the safe return of supporters to stadiums, warning football stands to lose £100million a month while matches are played behind closed doors.

The government is reviewing plans to allow venues to welcome spectators back on a socially-distanced basis from October 1 following a spike in coronavirus cases nationwide.

It has also capped pilot events already pencilled in at a capacity of 1,000, regardless of the size of the venue.

“The Premier League has written to government today to express its concern at the decisions taken to restrict, and potentially delay, the planned programme for the return of fans to football stadiums,” the statement read.

“With test events now capped at 1,000 supporters, we believe they will not provide any opportunity to properly test and evaluate measures designed to maximise fan safety.

“Therefore, Premier League clubs will defer holding test events until a sufficient number of fans are allowed back to enable thorough trials to take place. At 1,000 supporters, not only would there be little to learn from a test event, but each match would be heavily loss-making.

“For each month of the season without fans, more than £100million is lost to football across the leagues, with consequent damage to the local and national economy.

“It also harms the employment prospects of more than 100,000 people whose jobs depend on matchday activities.”

Capacity limits vary depending on the venue, but on average stadiums would be able to admit supporters up to 25 per cent capacity under the existing plan which is now being reviewed.

The letter from the Premier League comes at a time when new estimates show that the R rate – how many people one person with the virus infects – has risen above 1.

DCMS declined to comment following the letter, and a similar one from the Rugby Football League, but it understands and shares the concerns of sporting bodies and competitions and is determined to work with them on ensuring the safe return of spectators at the earliest opportunity.

Work is continuing behind the scenes on innovations which may allow fans to return in greater numbers, such as health passports which show a person has tested negative for the virus within a fixed period of time.

The Premier League added: “Our clubs have already prepared test events and can offer larger-scale trials to prove it is possible to produce bio-secure, safe environments, as was proved through the successful delivery of Project Restart.

“The Premier League recognises the ambition of government’s Operation Moonshot and will support the project’s objectives to get fans back into stadiums. However, we believe measures are already available which would allow the safe return of fans and should also be activated now.

“As the government begins its review of the October 1 date for the return of spectators to sport, the Premier League asks that the high safety standards which can be achieved by our clubs are fully taken into account before any decision is taken and that sport is not left behind other industries.”

RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer has also written to the government, urging it to stick with the October 1 date.

“Public health has been at the forefront of everything that rugby league has done throughout this period,” said Rimmer.

“At all times in our regular dialogue with government I have stressed this commitment and this morning I have written to the sports minister (Nigel Huddleston) to reiterate this and to urge that the October 1 date remains the target for socially distanced crowds.”

The RFL obtained a £16million loan from the Government at the start of the lockdown but Rimmer says the game is losing up to £2m a week and warns job losses could result in the continued absence of crowds.

The Football Association has announced the postponement of non-league finals day, featuring the FA Trophy and FA Vase finals, which was set to be a pilot event in front of spectators.

One of the pilot events scheduled for this month, the 2020 British speedway final at the Foxhall Stadium, will go ahead with 1,000 spectators in attendance.

The host club, Ipswich Witches, said far more than 1,000 tickets had been sold but only the first 1,000 to purchase them would now be allowed in.

Another pilot, the Vitality Blast cricket match between Yorkshire and Durham due to take place at Headingley next week, is being played behind closed doors because of the high prevalence of coronavirus cases in the local area.

There will also be 1,000 fans in attendance for Gloucester’s clash with Harlequins on Monday in the Gallagher Premiership.

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