The Premier League and the leaders of governing bodies across English soccer have pleaded with the UK government to speed up plans for fans to return to stadiums amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Premier League chief executive Richard Masters was joined by David Baldwin (EFL chief executive), Mark Bullingham (FA chief executive) and Kelly Simmons (FA director of women’s professional game) as they penned an open letter with regards to fans returning to stadiums for the first time since March.
The statement urged the UK government to allow fans back in stadiums soon, as 11 test events were successful in August and September but more test events were canceled due to a huge spike in COVID-19 cases in September and October.
Fans were due to be able to return in small numbers from October 1 but that was canceled.
Restarting the test events
As per new regulations, indoor events will be allowed to have fans in the UK during the next few months but outdoor stadiums are still banned from having fans present.
“We will continue to urge Government to allow us to return fans safely to stadiums. It is positive progress that major arts and music venues have been told they can run socially-distanced events indoors. And now football should be allowed to do the same – in highly regulated and stewarded outdoor environments.”
“And in light of the postponement of test events we will intensify our efforts to pioneer new approaches – working with epidemiologists, scientists and medical experts in areas such as public health, clinical processes and occupational hygiene. This will make sure stadiums are COVID-safe by considering best-practice screening and hygiene methods to ensure that fans and the general public will be safe and drive the Government’s sporting plans to move faster.”
How could Premier League fans return?
They added that the following changes could be made to allow fans to return to stadiums:
- Screening spectators before they enter the ground
- Installing temperature checks
- Requiring masks to be worn
- One-way systems
- Providing a code of conduct for all those attending on a matchday.
- Deep-cleaning practices to help further reduce the risk of virus transmission
The statement ends by saying:
“We all know why caution is needed, and we ask Government for consistency in their policy so sport is treated as fairly as other activities currently allowed to welcome spectators. So, we will continue to urge the relevant authorities to let us, together, use innovative ways to bring fans safely back into football grounds, starting with a return of the test event programme.”
How is it working elsewhere?
The Bundesliga in Germany have taken a general approach of having 20 percent of fans returning to stadiums for the 2020-21 season, with each region in Germany responsible for overseeing how fans are allowed to attend.
Borussia Dortmund had 11,000 fans in attendance for a game at their 80,000 capacity Westfalenstadion at the weekend.
The lower leagues in English soccer are being hit hard by not having fans in attendance (by far their biggest revenue stream) and although the Premier League and government have provided funds to help keep them going, there has to be some kind of solution and plan for fans to return on a small and safe scale.