Sports News

British government postpones return of fans to UK stadiums

LONDON (Reuters) - The Premier League warned on Tuesday that the football economy was unsustainable without fans in stadiums after Britain postponed plans to allow the return of limited crowds from October.

Middlesbrough fans look on as players kneel before the match as a limited number of fans are allowed to attend. Action Images via Reuters/Lee Smith/File Photo

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told parliament that, as part of new restrictions to tackle a second wave of COVID-19, the government was putting on hold plans for 25-33% capacities from Oct. 1.

The partial reopening would have given sports a funding boost after months of empty stadiums.

“We have to acknowledge that the spread of the virus is now affecting our ability to reopen business conferences, exhibitions and large sporting events,” said Johnson. “So we will not be able to do this from the first of October.

“I recognise the implications for our sports clubs which are the life and soul of our communities and... the chancellor and culture secretary are working urgently on what we can do now to support them.”

The Premier League expressed disappointment and said it was certain, from evidence in Europe, that fans in stadiums could be as safe or safer “than at any other public activity currently permitted.”

“Football is not the same without attending fans and the football economy is unsustainable without them,” it added in a statement.

The Premier League said its members suffered 700 million pounds ($895.09 million) of losses last season and the national game was losing more than 100 million a month with a ‘devastating’ impact on clubs and communities.

It said that it was confident that clubs, with innovative ways of getting spectators back into grounds, would see revenues return.

“We will continue to work with government to bring supporters safely back into grounds as soon as possible,” added the statement.

Senior cabinet minister Michael Gove had earlier told the BBC that the government, while wanting to allow the return of spectators at sporting events, needed to be cautious.

“I think a mass reopening at this stage wouldn’t be appropriate,” he said.

Sports’ governing bodies appeared resigned to the postponement and were preparing a request for more financial help.

The Rugby Football Union had hoped to have around 20,000 fans at Twickenham for England’s game against the Barbarians on Oct. 25 but have now suspended ticket sales.

Although the risk of spreading the virus sitting at outdoor stadiums is considered relatively low, the bigger concern is the amount of time crowds will be close together travelling to and from events, and entering the stadiums and refreshment areas.

“The virus is less likely to spread outdoors than indoors but then again it’s in the nature of sporting events that there’s a lot of mingling,” Gove said.

($1 = 0.7820 pounds)

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, Sarah Young, Mitch Phillips and Alan Baldwin; editing by Michael Holden/Peter Rutherford and Christian Radnedge