4,000 fans can return to some English stadiums

Socially distanced fans watching a friendly between Brighton and Chelsea at the Amex Stadium in August.
Socially distanced fans watching a friendly between Brighton and Chelsea at the Amex Stadium in August.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • Some English Premier League (EPL) clubs can look forward to welcoming back spectators in highly limited numbers next month for the first time since March, following an announcement by the British government on Monday.

Up to 4,000 people can return to outdoor sports stadiums in parts of England classified as being at low risk from Covid-19 from Dec 2, permitting the resumption of attendance at football, rugby and racecourses among other sports.

The crowd ceiling will be set at 4,000 or half the stadium capacity, whichever is lower, in the lowest-risk "tier one" parts of the country once a stricter lockdown due to the pandemic ends, the government said. In "tier two" areas, the limit will be 2,000 outdoors, or half the capacity, it said.

Only home fans will be permitted, to prevent unnecessary travel on public transport by opposing fans.

In the highest "tier three" regions where Covid-19 remains acute, no fans will be allowed.

A few pilot events have been held with spectators, such as a cricket match at The Oval, while Brighton hosted Chelsea before this season's Premier League got underway. However, England's football and rugby leagues, and horse racing venues, have not allowed spectators since the first lockdown began in March.

The government said it would spell out which regions will sit in which tier tomorrow, based on the latest weekly Covid data.

The EPL said on Monday that eight people had returned positive results in its latest round of Covid-19 tests conducted on players and staff last week. A total of 76 people have been diagnosed with the virus in 12 rounds of testing this season.

Prior to the current lockdown, most of the country including London, was in tier two. But three of the biggest Premier League clubs - Liverpool, Manchester United and Manchester City - are located in tier three areas, so it remains to be seen whether they will be allowed to admit fans after Dec 2.

EPL chiefs welcomed the news, while making it clear only a return to bigger crowds will ease the sport's financial problems.

"Our ambition remains to work with Government to increase attendance to more substantial levels," it added in a statement, noting that clubs have a "proven track record of achieving high-biosecurity standards".

The Football League, which governs the three divisions below the top flight, said: "While today's news is subject to regional restrictions, it is an important step in achieving a return to normal, alongside it being crucial to addressing the significant revenue gap left by a lack of spectators and other revenue streams."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 25, 2020, with the headline '4,000 fans can return to some English stadiums'. Print Edition | Subscribe