By Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw
With a view to easing the restrictions on the holding of sporting events with fans, imposed because of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the UK Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) has announced some pilot events in order to test the return of fans to them this year.
Mention may be made, in particular, of two of these popular and important sporting events, namely: the iconic FA Cup and the World Snooker Championship.
The DCMS has stated that it will stage “around a dozen” sporting and cultural events this Spring.
The FA Cup Final will take place at Wembley Stadium on 15 May.
The DCMS has stated that the number of spectators at the pilot is yet to be decided.
But it has been reported in the media that the possibility of having 20,000 fans at the FA Cup Final is being considered by the DCMS and the FA. The proposals would also need to be approved by the Local Authority, Brent Council.
Under the four-part so-called ‘roadmap’ to lift the current Coronavirus lockdown, which the UK Government announced in February, the Government stated that “up to 10,000 people” could be allowed in stadia for sporting events if the pilots for these events are successful, but not, in any case, before 17 May.
However, the FA Cup Final could still see a crowd of that size or larger attend, with the DCMS adding that “a number of pilots will include spectators and fans not socially distanced” whilst others will have socially distancing measures in place.
The World Snooker Championship is scheduled to take place from 17 April – 3 May at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield.
According to the UK Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden:
“These test events will be crucial in finding ways to get fans and audiences back in safely without social distancing.”
“We will be guided by the science and medical experts but will work flat out to make that happen. We want to get the people to enjoying what they love and ensure that some of our most important growth industries get back on their feet.”
The pilot events are part of the Events Research Programme (ERP) and will guide the Government’s decisions on step four of the ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown, which will begin no earlier than 21 June, when it hopes to lift all legal limits on social contact.
The events will provide data on how large-scale crowds could be able to return safely to stadia after this point.
Attendees will have to return a negative test before the events and will also be tested afterwards. The non-socially distant events will also test the range of so-called “non-pharmaceutical mitigating interventions”, such as the “layout of the venue, face covering and ventilation”, whilst the ERP will also look at factors including travel to and from the events.
The English Premier League plans to have fans in stadia for the final two rounds of matches this season, by moving a round of fixtures to 18-20 May before the scheduled final round of games on 23 May.
The English Football League has stated that it is “engaging” with the UK Government regarding the potential for a small number of fans to attend the ‘Carabao’ Cup Final at Wembley Stadium on 25 April.
Let us hope that these pilot events prove to be successful and that sport returns to some degree of ‘normality’ in the near future!