‘Crack team’ appointed to speed up the return of fans
Plans to get fans back into stadiums will be stepped up this week when the Government unveils a “crack team” charged with finding hightech solutions to a shut-out it has extended for up to another six months.
Barely 48 hours after scrapping the return of crowds in professional and semi-professional sport following a spike in coronavirus cases, ministers are poised to announce the make-up of the Sport Tech Innovation Group, which will feature sport, health and tech experts led by David Ross, co-founder of the Carphone Warehouse.
Plans to create this “crack team” were announced last month by Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, who said it would look at innovations such as tracking devices to measure social distancing between fans, fluorescent disinfectants to reveal how often surfaces were touched and ways of making travel to and from venues safer.
The group will also feature Premier League chairman Gary Hoffman, Sport England vice-chair Natalie Ceeney and Jonathan VanTam, the deputy chief medical officer for England, with the Sports Grounds Safety Authority acting as secretariat.
Dowden said it would liaise with sports bodies including the Premier League and England and Wales Cricket Board and would also help get people back in theatres, cinemas and music venues.
The group will be under even more pressure to come up with solutions after the Government scrapped plans to authorise the return of crowds at pro and semipro level on Oct 1, leaving sport on the brink of financial collapse. Ministers had previously been set to allow venues to be up to a third full provided strict social distancing was enforced. The Government also paused its pilot programme for the return of crowds, which had already seen those events involved restricted to welcoming up to 1,000 spectators earlier this month following the resurgence of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the Hungarian government insists it is “safe” for fans to attend tonight’s Super Cup between Bayern Munich and Sevilla, despite opposition saying they will be “experimental rabbits”. Budapest’s Puskas Arena, with a 67,000 capacity, is expected to be a third full.
This weekend, Formula One will stage the biggest sporting spectator event of the Covid-19 era, with 30,000 fans expected for the Russian Grand Prix. Tens of thousands of fans will be admitted to Sochi’s Olympic Park to watch Lewis Hamilton bidding to match Michael Schumacher’s victory record.
Russia is one of only four countries in the world to have exceeded one million Covid-19 cases and on Tuesday, 6,215 new infections were reported.