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
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