LONDON (Reuters) - Snooker, horse racing and cricket will be the first sports to bring back spectators in England in coming weeks, the British government announced on Friday, in a trial of plans aimed at reopening elite sports to fans more widely from Oct. 1.
The government will allow spectators at carefully selected trial events from late July to early August to ‘stress test’ new guidelines on a return to some kind of sporting normality.
The pilot events include the re-scheduled World Snooker championships in Sheffield, the Goodwood horse racing festival and two county cricket friendly fixtures, including one between Surrey and Middlesex at London’s Oval ground.
Elite sport in Britain returned without fans last month after a near three-month shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“For months millions of us have felt the void of being unable to go to the match to support our team or attend a top-class sporting event,” Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said.
“So I am pleased that we are now able to move forward with a plan to help venues safely reopen their doors to fans.”
The events were selected to represent a range of sports and indoor and outdoor spectator environments, the government said in a statement.
“I recognise that not every sport, team or club has the benefit of huge commercial revenue, and it’s often their dedicated fans that are the lifeblood which keep them going,” Huddleston said.
Strict operating standards will have to be met before reopening to the public, including rules about ticketing, transportation, crowd management and enhanced hygiene measures.
The government’s guidance initially applies to elite sport in England only; other parts of the United Kingdom have separate rules.
Horse racing has seen both the Grand National and Epsom Derby run behind closed doors this year. The return of fans to Goodwood will be a major boost for the sport.
“It marks an important day for the sports industry following a few challenging months,” Adam Waterworth, Sport Managing Director at the Goodwood Estate, said.
“The Goodwood team will ensure the racecourse adheres to Government guidelines on social distancing and hygiene.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis and Peter Graff