Plans for fans to return to stadiums could be pushed back until November amid concerns over the UK’s worsening coronavirus situation.
Originally, it was planned for fans to be allowed back into sports’ stadia – albeit with reduced capacities – from October 1st, although the government have announced that such a plan is now under review following a sharp increase in cases in recent weeks.
It was announced on Wednesday that there will be eight EFL games this weekend with up to 1,000 fans in attendance as part of a government pilot scheme, though Premier League clubs have shelved plans to hold similar events with the league’s authorities admitting there would be ‘little to learn’ from having so few fans while insisting each match would be ‘heavily loss-making’.
It had been hoped that stadiums would be allowed to reopen at a capacity of 25 to 30 per cent next month, however, the Times is reporting that there are growing fears that the return of fans could be pushed back by a further month, or to further reduce the maximum capacity.
Several leading bodies are believed to be pushing for the government to press ahead with reduced capacity events from October 1 after holding talks with the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden.
Return of fans to sport update
Just held a collaborative & constructive meeting with major sports on the 1st Oct review
There is mutual understanding of the need to get fans back in, whilst all acknowledging the very significant headwinds we face with the virus
— Oliver Dowden (@OliverDowden) September 16, 2020
During the talks, the financial impact of hosting fixtures without fans was stressed to Dowden, and while the news of a potential delay will come as a blow to Premier League sides, it opens up a potentially perilous situation for clubs further down the footballing pyramid, the lack of fans costing EFL clubs a combined £20 million for each month that grounds remain empty.
National League side Macclesfield Town were this week wound up in the High Court amid spiralling debts, with the future of a number of other EFL clubs being in jeopardy amid a lack of match-day revenue, with reports that more could go out of business before Christmas without income from supporters or financial aid.
The morality of having fans return to stadiums amid the government’s current guidelines limiting society to groups of six will also need to be addressed, whilst local spikes will also need to be considered when sanctioning the return of supporters.
The sporting bodies can perhaps take encouragement from Europe, with fans set to return to German stadia this weekend for the Bundesliga kick-off, while they have already returned to stadiums in France, at a reduced capacity despite the nation’s infection rate currently standing three times higher than that of the UK at present.