London (AFP) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Tuesday that the planned phased return of spectators to sports venues in England was on hold due to a sharp rise in coronavirus cases.
A number of pilot test events, in which capacities have been capped at 1,000, have taken place and it was hoped venues would be allowed to welcome more spectators from the start of October.
But Johnson set out a range of tough new restrictions for England designed to limit the spread of Covid-19.
“We have to acknowledge that the spread of the virus is now affecting our ability to reopen business conferences, exhibitions and large sporting events,” he told the House of Commons.
“So we will not be able to do this from October 1 and I recognise the implications for our sports clubs which are the life and soul of our communities, and… the Chancellor and the Culture Secretary are working urgently on what we can do now to support them.”
He said the measures being announced on Tuesday would remain in place for “perhaps six months”.
It is a devastating blow to sports clubs, many of whom rely heavily on match-day revenue for survival, and there have already been calls from governing bodies for the government to provide emergency funding.
Professional sport, including the Premier League and Test cricket, has largely been played behind closed doors since it returned following the coronavirus shutdown earlier this year.
– Stark warning –
The leaders of more than 100 sports bodies have reportedly written to Johnson to ask for emergency funding, warning of “a lost generation of activity”.
Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has said it is “critical” to get fans back into stadiums soon, with clubs facing enormous losses.
Newcastle head coach Steve Bruce told a press conference on Tuesday he was desperate to see supporters back and was disappointed by the move.
“It’s totally and utterly different without them,” he said. “It’s not the spectacle that I believe it is when you get a full St James’ Park and you get a cracking game.”
Kevin Miles, the chief executive of the Football Supporters’ Association, urged the government to listen to fans, saying feedback from test events confirmed a high level of compliance with health and safety measures.
“Having fans at games is of course not only important to the lives of supporters, it is also crucial to the survival of so many clubs who play a crucial role within their communities,” he said.
Pilot events in rugby union have been cancelled, with the matches now due to take place behind closed doors.
Premiership Rugby confirmed this affected the game between Bath and Gloucester on Tuesday and Bristol against Leicester next week.
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