Crowds to re­turn as Har­lequins lead pilot events

Match at Stoop to be the first league fix­ture for rugby fans Foot­ball, rac­ing, cricket and bas­ket­ball among trial sports

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Tom Mor­gan and Marcus Army­tage

Har­lequins against Bath will be the first com­pet­i­tive league match in English sport to wel­come back crowds, it emerged yes­ter­day as the Gov­ern­ment set out its full timetable for pilot events ahead of a fuller re­turn for venues on Oct 1.

Oliver Dow­den, the Cul­ture Sec­re­tary, in­sisted Covid-19 rates had “lev­elled off ” enough to re­sume tri­als for the re­turn of sup­port­ers, as he con­firmed Premier League Brighton would start the re­turn of foot­ball crowds at Satur­day’s friendly against Chelsea.

Twenty20 Blast cricket, Women’s Su­per League foot­ball and horse rac­ing for the St Leger meet­ing at Don­caster (Sept 9-12), War­wick (Sept 21) and New­mar­ket (Sept 24) will also see small crowds as all venues pre­pare for 30 per cent ca­pac­ity crowds by Oc­to­ber.

About 2,500 fans will be al­lowed into the Amex Sta­dium for Satur­day. If all goes to plan, 10,000 will be al­lowed for the FA Tro­phy and FA Vase fi­nals later next month – with sup­port­ers at­tend­ing from more than one club.

Lewes FC’s pre-sea­son friendly against Lon­don Bees on Satur­day will be the first women’s foot­ball match with a crowd. The De­part­ment for Dig­i­tal, Cul­ture, Me­dia and Sport has then lined up West Ham against Arse­nal in the Women’s Su­per League.

Har­lequins against Bath in the Premier­ship on Sept 5 is the only rugby match to be included in the pilot, while cricket fans will be wel­comed back to an as-yet-un­de­cided match next week. De­tails of the num­bers al­lowed at Twick­en­ham Stoop had not been an­nounced last night.

Bas­ket­ball’s Ea­gles Com­mu­nity Arena will have an in­door crowd for a New­cas­tle pre-sea­son ex­hi­bi­tion match and speed­way fans will be wel­comed back to the Fox­hall Sta­dium, Ip­swich, for the Bri­tish fi­nal.

With a surge of new virus cases in Spain and France, as well as in­fec­tions in­creas­ing in ar­eas such as Old­ham, there had been fears that prepa­ra­tions for the re­turn of fans would be de­layed in the UK.

The pi­lots “will only take place if the lat­est sci­en­tific and med­i­cal ad­vice al­lows for them to pro­ceed in a Covid-se­cure way, and will be paused again if the ad­vice sug­gests that con­di­tions in the lo­cal area are not met”, the DCMS said.

Dow­den added: “I know fans and their teams can’t wait to be re­united in sta­di­ums across the coun­try, but it’s im­per­a­tive we take a cau­tious and phased ap­proach to get fans back in safely. I’m pleased that in­fec­tion rates have lev­elled off enough to re­sume the pilot pro­gramme.”

Eng­land’s en­counter against Wales at Wem­b­ley in Oc­to­ber re­mains in line to be­gin the re­turn of in­ter­na­tional foot­ball crowds af­ter Uefa mem­bers last week agreed next month’s in­ter­na­tion­als should all re­main be­hind closed doors.

The Gov­ern­ment has set a limit of 30 per cent ca­pac­ity when foot­ball fans are al­lowed to re­turn to sta­di­ums. That ceil­ing is ex­pected to be chal­lenged by the Premier League, which wants each ground to be dealt with on a club-by-club ba­sis and be­lieves it is too low for some who are able to han­dle more sup­port­ers at­tend­ing.

Foot­ball is plan­ning to put to­gether “be­spoke” cases for ev­ery club tak­ing into ac­count such fac­tors as sta­dium de­sign, trans­port links and lo­cal coro­n­avirus in­fec­tion rates.

Back in busi­ness: Twick­en­ham Stoop will host Har­lequins against Bath on Sept 5

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