Football fans may not be able to return to stadiums until 2021, with fears growing that the entire season could be played behind closed doors as the Government backtrack on their plans to allow supporters back in next month.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has delayed the partial return of fans to all sports stadiums on October 1 due to the recent spike in Covid cases.
And MP Steve Brine, who is a member of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, has revealed that all sport – including Premier League football – is likely to continue without supporters until at least the start of next year.
He told talkSPORT: ‘It is very, very possible we will see fans inside stadiums this season. It is diminishingly small chances now that that will happen in 2020.
‘As much as we love it, as much as we may enjoy going to live sport, it is not essential and it is the social contact that we are probably going to have to sacrifice this year.’
Pilot events have been taking place with a maximum of 1,000 fans in each stadium, with the intention of returning all venues to 30 per cent capacity by the start of next month.
Up to 1,000 fans were admitted to eight EFL fixtures last Saturday in the latest test events
Carlisle fans socially distanced themselves in the stands as they watched their team live
But Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove confirmed this morning that this has been shelved for now. The move comes in light of increasing restrictions imposed by the Government from Thursday amid fears of a strong second wave of Covid-19 this autumn.
Mr Johnson announced a wave of new measures designed to crackdown on the spread of coronavirus on Tuesday and warned that they could last up to six months, putting the return of football fans to stadiums this season in doubt.
Mr Johnson said: ‘Finally 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 1st October and I recognise the implications for our sports clubs which are the life and soul of our communities.’
Earlier in the day, Gove told Sky News: ‘We’ve been piloting some open air venues and we do want to be able in due course to allow people to return to watch football and other sporting events.
‘We need to be cautious at the moment and I think a mass reopening at this stage wouldn’t be appropriate.’
The Telegraph claim that a crisis meeting between the Government and senior officials from a number of sports has been scheduled for later on Tuesday.
In a further interview with BBC Breakfast, Gove added: ‘It was the case that we were looking at a staged programme of more people returning.
‘It wasn’t going to be the case that we were going to have stadiums thronged with fans.
It was part of the ‘return to fans’ pilot programme amid the COVID-19 pandemic
‘We’re looking at for the moment how we can pause that programme, but what we do want to do is make sure that as and when circumstances allow, get more people back, because again, you make a fair point that 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.
‘People look back now at the beginning of the pandemic and look at some of the major sporting events then and ask the question: ‘Why were they allowed to go ahead?’
‘Well, one of the things we must do now whatever the wisdom of decisions made then is to look at sporting events now with caution.
‘But of course we also recognise that sport is a vital part of the life of this nation and we’re looking at everything that we can do to support our athletes, our great clubs through what will be a challenging time.’
Brine admitted that the Government would have to step in to help clubs lower down the football pyramid survive, although there is no intention of aiding mega-rich Premier League sides.
‘We are not going to be bailing out football clubs that pay stars £600,000-a-week,’ he added.
‘Of course there was a possibility of getting some fans back and in big football stadiums you can socially distance quite well with your best season ticket holders but it is not about that it, it is about getting to the ground and all the different services around. It is the social interaction which as much as we may love it, is not essential.
‘I guess it was always inevitable there was going to be a pause on this given the virus stats going in the wrong direction but there is no question the government needs to think about helping lower league football clubs to save themselves and they are going to have to step in.’
The news came as 100 sports organisations, including the Premier League, FA and Rugby Football Union, wrote to Mr Johnson calling for urgent funding to avoid a ‘lost generation’ of physical activity.
According to a letter reportedly seen by BBC Sport, the group warns the future of the sector is ‘perilous’ and urges the Government to provide a ‘sports recovery fund’ in order to help the industry endure the prolonged effects of the pandemic.
The letter, written by organisations including the Football Association, Premier League, Rugby Football Union and England and Wales Cricket Board, reportedly states: ‘We require a comprehensive support package for the sport and physical sector to aid its recovery.
‘This package must combine investment, tax incentives, and regulatory reform.
‘Covid-19 has undermined our commercial revenue streams with both stadiums and leisure facilities closed or greatly reduced in capacity. The impact of this will potentially lead to a lost generation of sport and activity.’
Lisa Wainwight, chief executive of the Sport and Recreation Alliance, told the BBC: ‘The strength of this coalition from the sports, recreation and activity sector cannot be ignored in its public call to the prime minister.
‘It is imperative that our sector gets the support it requires from the government to get back to business, in order to ease the pressures on the NHS and play a central role in our nation’s recovery.’
But a return to sports stadiums has been halted by Boris Johnson – it comes as 100 sports organisations, including the Premier League, FA and Rugby Football Union, wrote to the PM (pictured) calling for urgent funding to avoid a ‘lost generation’ of physical activity
Michael Gove confirmed the bad news for sports fans on Tuesday, saying: ‘We’ve been piloting some open air venues… but I think a mass reopening at this stage wouldn’t be appropriate’
Boris Johnson today unveiled a major crackdown on normal life in a bid to halt a second wave of coronavirus.
The Prime Minister dropped his ‘back to work’ drive, announced restrictions on socialising and imposed a 10pm curfew on bars and restaurants from Thursday.
Pubs and other venues will be allowed to serve seated customers only and drinkers will be banned from gathering in crowds. Chief medical officer Chris Whitty said yesterday it was crucial to break ‘unnecessary links between households’.
As a result of the latest measures, Bath rugby club were forced to cancel their fan trial event at the Recreation Ground tonight, where they had hoped to host 1,000 supporters for the Gloucester match.
Tuesday night’s Premiership match as well as Bristol’s game next Wednesday against Leicester at Ashton Gate – which was also due to host 1,000 fans – will now both be played behind closed doors.
In a gloomy televised briefing yesterday, Mr Whitty said restrictions may have to last for six months to help the NHS cope through the winter.
The Government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, told the briefing without action, Covid cases could hit 50,000 a day by the middle of next month, with deaths hitting 200 a day by November.
The number of confirmed cases reported for Sunday rose by 4,368, up from 3,899 the previous day. There were 11 more deaths.
Norwich supporters looked happy to be back as they watched their game against Preston
There were plenty of Middlesbrough fans in attendance for their clash with Bournemouth
Areas where marked where supporters could sit at Brunton Park with stewards monitoring fans
Along with football, other major sports have voiced their concerns over when they will be able to get spectators safely back inside grounds, with the initially planned return date of October 1 looking more unlikely as the days go by, despite the pilot events taking place.
Up to 1,000 fans were allowed at eight fixtures across the three divisions of the EFL, including the Championship matches at Middlesbrough and Norwich, last Saturday afternoon – a decision which had caused backlash among supporters as they feared for their safety and well-being.
EFL chairman Rick Parry, who said EFL clubs are losing £25million a month while fans aren’t allowed in stadiums over Covid-19 concerns, believes these trial events in football can ‘show the nation the way forward.’
The latest set of games that took place followed a successful pilot event involving 1,000 fans at last week’s EFL Trophy match between Cambridge United and Fulham Under 21s.
Fans returned to a competitive league match for the first time since the pandemic began on Saturday as Carlisle United fans were allowed to attend their League Two match against Southend United.
Areas were marked out where fans could sit at Brunton Park while face coverings had to be worn while entering the ground, but not in the stadium seats or in the terraces.
Stewards also monitored where fans were placed as both the seated and terraced areas at Carlisle were open to supporters.
Premier League clubs fear a second wave will keep spectators out of football grounds – such as the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium (above) – until November
A socially-distanced crowd at Brighton FC’s stadium during a friendly on August 29
There are currently no plans to run test events in Premier League matches as England’s top-flight enters its third week of the 2020-21 season.
West Ham chief Karren Brady has slammed the top-flight’s decision to delay the return of fans and claimed that a Premier League stadium is ‘safer than your own living room’.
She added: ‘Frankly, 1,000 spectators in, say, West Ham’s London Stadium — which has 66,000 seats — is so wide of that objective it rivals me in high heels shooting for goal from 25 yards. It is both laughable and irrelevant.’
Brady explained that clubs are losing around £80m in match-day revenue every month. ‘My plea for the return of sizeable crowds is by no means all about the loss of revenue although the sums are eye-wateringly large,’ she added.
West Ham vice-chair Karren Brady insists football is ready to welcome fans back to games
Elsewhere in Europe, meanwhile, some countries are accelerating plans to get fans back inside stadiums.
Some football fans in Germany returned to watch their teams in action last weekend, with 4,600 fans in attendance to watch Union Berlin play Augsburg.
Bayern Munich’s clash with Sevilla in the UEFA Super Cup on Thursday will go ahead with 20,000 spectators in the ground.
UEFA chiefs had been accused of conducting a ‘human experiment’ by a Hungarian MP by allowing the match in Budapest to be played in front of 14,000 Hungarians as well as 3,000 fans from each club coming into the country.
Socialist Party MP Ildiko Borbely said the footballing body – who are looking for answers as to how coronavirus spreads at mass events – is using the event as ‘medical research’ and her party have repeatedly called on the government to make the match a closed event.
In Formula One, next month’s Eifel Grand Prix at Germany’s Nurburgring track can have as many as 20,000 fans in attendance, local authorities said on Monday, with the region’s infections under control.