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‘You don't know what you're doing’

Boris Johnson says fans allowed back inside stadiums despite lockdown rules still in place

SPECTACTORS will be allowed back into some sports events in England from next week as coronavirus prevention measures are tested ahead of a planned wider reopening of stadiums in October.

Domestic cricket on July 26-27 is set to be the first sport that fans are allowed to watch in person since March.

Some spectators will also be allowed into the world snooker championship in Sheffield from July 31 and the Glorious Goodwood horse racing festival on August 1 is also part of a government scheme piloting the return of fans.

“From October we intend to bring back audiences in stadia … in a Covid-secure way subject to the successful outcome of pilots,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said today.

Attendance at sporting events for the foreseeable future will be subject to a number of strict conditions.

These include venues being ordered to provide information on measures being taken to mitigate the risk of Covid-19 infection, a code of behaviour for spectators advising them to take a responsible approach, such as staying away if suffering from any symptoms of the virus.

There will also need to be careful control of seat bookings to ensure social distancing is observed, measures taken to limit the use of public transport by spectators and the provision of additional hygiene facilities.

A statement from the Racecourse Association said: “This is potentially an important step forward in the sporting economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and the industry is grateful for the support of DCMS [Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport] in selecting horse racing to be one of the sports to host a pilot event, two months after we returned safely behind closed doors.

“The RCA-led Stage 5 industry working group have also worked tirelessly in recent weeks to enable this pilot event to take place, reflecting the unique characteristics of racecourses as outdoor sporting venues.”

The stage five guidance on spectators returning to sports events states that the capacity allowed in a venue will vary depending on its layout, rather than being set at a fixed percentage.

As well as the venue itself, consideration must also be given by event organisers to how safe it is for spectators to access the venue.

Announcing a further easing of lockdown restrictions, Johnson said the measures could be reversed if coronavirus infection rates begin to climb again, with concerns about a new coronavirus spike this winter.

Britain’s official pandemic death toll, which stood at more than 45,000 as of yesterday, has for several weeks been the highest in Europe and the third-highest in the world behind the United States and Brazil.

Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston cautioned that it will “remain some time” before stadiums can be full again.

The Premier League will finish the season without fans at games, and there will be no spectators at the 90,000-capacity Wembley Stadium for this weekend’s FA Cup semi-finals.

“For months millions of us have felt the void of being unable to go to the match to support our team or attend a top-class sporting event,” Huddleston said.

“So I am pleased that we are now able to move forward with a plan to help venues safely reopen their doors to fans.

“I recognise that not every sport, team or club has the benefit of huge commercial revenue, and it is often their dedicated fans that are the lifeblood which helps keep them going.

“By working closely with sports and medical experts, these pilots will help ensure the safe return of fans to stadia.”

English Rugby Football Union chief executive Bill Sweeney said in May that 85 per cent of the the governing body’s revenue comes from hosting men’s international games at Twickenham.

England have been working on the assumption that their Six Nations campaign and quartet of autumn test matches can be played across October and November as the RFU seek to avoid losses of more than £107 million caused by the pandemic.

The English Football Association last month announced they were cutting 82 jobs to cover an anticipated deficit of £300m due to the pandemic restricting crowds at games and more events being cancelled, including NFL regular season games.

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