The Premier League hopes that fans will be able to return to stadiums before the end of the 2020-21 season.
[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]
Fans have not been present in stadiums for most of the season, with a handful of clubs allowed to have a maximum of 2,000 supporters for a few weeks in December.
However, a huge rise in COVID-19 cases in England due to the UK mutation, which made the coronavirus more transmissible, saw a return to playing in empty stadiums.
Premier League chief executive Richard Masters had the following to say about the return of fans in the final months of the current season.
“No-one can say but we have not lost hope we might see a few back this season, depending what happens with the numbers,” Masters told the FT Business of Football summit. “Hopefully the season finishes as planned on 23 May and wherever the trophy presentation might be, there might be some supporters in the ground as well. It depends what happens with the numbers but next season I hope it opens up quickly, so we can get fans back in stadiums and get back to the real Premier League.”
What is the situation in England?
A strict national lockdown has been in place in England since the first week of January.
It is the third national lockdown in the last year and although COVID-19 cases have fallen dramatically in recent weeks, there is still concern that new variants will hamper any return of fans to stadiums, and other forms of normality, in the coming weeks and months.
However, there is real hope that the UK’s incredible vaccination rate will see restrictions lifted quicker than before. Close to 17 million people have been vaccinated out of population of 66 million, and many of the most vulnerable have received their first shot at the very least. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will announce on Feb. 22 how England will come out of lockdown and what reopens when.
The Premier League, like every business and industry in the UK, is hoping that incredible speed of vaccination combined with the better weather in the spring and early summer will allow fans to return. If that happened, that would then mean clubs can start planning to have a large chunk of fans back for the 2021-22 season.
How likely is a return of fans to stadiums?
After personally seeing multiple stadiums host 2,000 fans safely and efficiently in December, all of the COVID-19 safety protocols are in place in Premier League stadiums. That would mean a speedy return for some fans, if and when the restrictions in England are relaxed.
If the COVID-19 numbers continue to decrease at the current rate, it is conceivable that some fans could return by late March through to the end of May. That would be very useful to plan out how next season could work.