Government plans to partially open up stadiums across the country from October 1 have been postponed for up to six months after the government announced stricter restrictions on gatherings in an effort to prevent a second wave of coronavirus.
What were the latest announcements?
Speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday 22 September, the Prime Minister said: “We have to acknowledge that the spread of the virus is now affecting our ability to reopen business conferences, exhibitions and large sporting events, so we will not be able to do this from October 1 and I recognise the implications for our sports clubs which are the life and soul of our communities.”
He added: “We will spare no effort in developing vaccines, treatments, new forms of mass-testing but unless we palpably make progress we should assume that the restrictions that I have announced will remain in place for perhaps six months.”
Speaking on Tuesday 22 September, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove announced that plans for a limited number of fans to return to stadiums on October 1 have been pushed back — with no new date yet announced.
“We’re looking at how we can, for the moment, pause that programme,” Gove said. “But what we do want to do is to make sure that, as and when circumstances allow, get more people back.
“The virus is less likely to spread outdoors than indoors but again it’s in the nature of major sporting events that there’s a lot of mingling.”
Pilot schemes, at which up to 1,000 supporters were allowed to attend certain events, have also been cancelled.
Why are pubs allowed to open, but not sports stadiums?
Cabinet office minister Michael Gove suggested that reopening stadiums is problematic because of the way supporters travel to sporting events and because of the way people behave at those events.
“The virus is less likely to spread outdoors than indoors but again it’s in the nature of major sporting events that there’s a lot of mingling,” he said.
Public health experts have told Telegraph Sport that the ban on fans in stadiums is “crackers” and “inconsistent”.
How might a staged return work?
The initial Government plan was to allow all stadiums to have around 30 per cent capacities at some point in October. One option suggested by a source close to talks was to introduce an initial cap of under 3,000 spectators, and then gradually ease the limit by Christmas. Those plans have all been pushed back by this week’s announcements.
Football remains determined to put together ‘bespoke’ cases for every club taking into account such factors as stadium design, transport links and local coronavirus infection rates. One option for clubs and local authorities will be announcing staggered arrival times.
Will fans be required to wear face masks when stadiums do reopen?
It may vary from venue to venue. After consultation with Government, the World Snooker Championship ordered spectators to wear masks in the concourse at Sheffield, but, initially, not while sat at their socially-distanced seats.
However, during previous pilot schemes at football grounds, clubs have taken different approaches. Cambridge United supporters were told to do so during the EFL Trophy match between the hosts and Fulham Under-21s. At Brighton, however, many fans took off their masks while sitting at their seats.
The plan for the return of rugby also appears to be mixed. There were no strict rules at the Twickenham Stoop on Sept 6 to watch Harlequins against Bath. Around half of the 2,700 allowed in wore face coverings.
What concessions have been made for locked-out fans?
More games than ever are being televised live for both football fans and Premiership Rugby fans. Premier League supporters and broadcast partners expect the televising of every game to continue.
Clubs are due to meet in the coming days to vote on whether to allow all matches to be shown in October and potentially beyond having reversed their decision to block fans watching 160 of them this season by making each of September’s available.
Sources at broadcasters told Telegraph Sport they expected the same arrangement to apply under which they have been awarded additional matches at no extra cost. That would see the BBC awarded at least one more game, and potentially several more if matches continued behind closed doors for up to another six months.
Premiership Rugby also agreed every match played behind closed doors would be filmed live on BT Sport. Once crowds can safely return to stadia, BT Sport will revert to broadcasting a selection of games.
What about refunds for season ticket-holders?
Football and rugby have yet to announce plans for refunds for season ticket holders due to the uncertainty around how many games they will be able to attend. In the EFL, many clubs say the vast majority have renewed without asking for refunds on last season’s missed games. In return, fans in the Championship were given access to live games streamed on club websites.
Will my club go out of business if fans don’t come back on October 1?
The decision to start this season in September set off a ticking timebomb for the EFL as clubs were forced to bring players off furlough around six or seven weeks ago. The EFL is lobbying for a bailout from the Government due to the serious threat that a host of clubs in League One and Two could go to the wall without matchday revenue in the coming months.
Globally, football will lose out on almost £11 billion in revenue because of the pandemic, according to Fifa. Lower league football’s concerns over delays in getting crowds back are mirrored by teams in the Gallagher Rugby Premiership. “We need to put some bums on seats,” says Tony Rowe, chairman at Exeter Chiefs. I am surprised in the Premiership that we have not had the demise of any clubs so far.”