Ambitious plans for return of fans in England

LONDON • Fans could be back in English stadiums for the final weekend of the Premier League season and there are hopes that the Euro 2020 final will be played at a full Wembley under plans announced on Monday.

Under a four-step road map to ease the existing coronavirus restrictions, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that elite sport in the country will continue behind closed doors until May 17 at the earliest.

However, if there are no setbacks, crowds of up to 10,000 or 25 per cent of seated capacity, whichever is lower, will be allowed to return.

Expressing his confidence that Britain was on track to open up amid a third national lockdown, he said: "The turnstiles of our sports stadia will once again rotate."

The League Cup final between Manchester City and Tottenham, which was pushed back two months to April 25, and the FA Cup final both fall outside the May 17 timeline but the Football Association (FA) is proposing to stage the showpiece games as "test events" for the return of fans to stadiums.

The Premier League season is due to finish on May 23 and other than a small number of matches played in front of 2,000 spectators in December, the entire 2020-21 season has been held behind closed doors.

Further restrictions are set to be lifted on June 21 in time for a series of major international sports events in England.

The semi-finals and final of Euro 2020, which were delayed by a year owing to the pandemic, are scheduled to take place at Wembley on July 6, 7 and 11.

Wimbledon, which was abandoned last year for the first time since World War II, is due to start on June 28 and golf's British Open, another event that fell by the wayside, returns this year from July 15 to 18.

"As we continue to plan for The Championships in 2021, we welcome @10DowningStreet's announcements," read an official Wimbledon tweet.

Britain is one of the countries hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, with more than 120,000 deaths but Mr Johnson told MPs that with a mass vaccination programme easing pressure on overstretched hospitals, "the end really is in sight".

  • 10,000

    Maximum number of fans who may be allowed into each stadium on the last day of the Premier League season.

The FA welcomed the easing of curbs, saying in a brief statement it is "absolutely delighted that fans will be allowed back soon".

"The game is simply not the same without them and we look forward to the return of full stadia as soon as it is safe and possible."

Cricket and rugby chiefs also embraced the road map.

A statement from the England and Wales Cricket Board said: "We are... very pleased to see the return of spectators to grounds from mid-May. Our leading venues strongly believe they have the technology and know-how to return to capacity crowds."

The plan depends on four conditions being met.

The vaccine programme must go to plan; data must prove there is a reduction in the number of people dying from Covid-19 or needing hospital treatment; there must be no surge in infection rates; and new coronavirus variants must not heighten the risks of allowing the reopening of society.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2021, with the headline 'Ambitious plans for return of fans in England'. Subscribe