Plans to allow fans to attend a number of sporting events throughout the UK as a pilot for venues potentially re-opening have been cancelled amid rising Covid infection rates.
Following recent spikes in Covid-19 cases, the government announced on Friday the ban on fans allowed to attend sporting events has been extended by two weeks. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said “we must squeeze the brake pedal” on lifting lockdown restrictions.
Snooker, cricket and horse racing were the three sports piloting the return of fans on a restricted basis. Social distancing measures were in use, however, while Johnson made the announcement during the first session of the World Snooker Championship in Sheffield, plans were scrapped as sporting events were deemed to continue behind closed doors.
A harsh decision to take as meticulous planning have occurred in preparation to enable spectators to return safely. Cricket grounds The Oval and Edgbaston were hoping to welcome 2,500 fans for the Bob Willis Trophy.
In response the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) released a statement saying, “We understand this is disappointing for supporters who have waited a long time to see their clubs in action and were looking forward to attending pilot events at the Kia Oval and Edgbaston this weekend.”
“However, we understand the reasons the government has made this decision and remain ready to work with them to ensure supporters can safely return to stadiums when government advice allows.”
“We are pleased the Bob Willis Trophy will still begin this weekend behind closed doors, and fans will be able to watch their teams in action through the online streams being provided.”
Racegoers were also left disappointed as it meant the Qatar Goodwood Festival had to continue behind-closed-doors. The British Horseracing Authority and the Racecourse Association statement said, “The government has informed racing’s leaders in the past hour that it has withdrawn permission for a pilot event involving customers to proceed at Goodwood tomorrow.”
“The racing on Saturday will continue behind closed doors as it has on the earlier days of the Festival.”
“The prime minister is setting out the rationale for the government’s decision, but we understand that concern about the national infection rate is the primary reason, and as a result all pilots of larger crowds in sporting venues will be postponed until at least 15th August.”
Even more disappointing for Goodwood as the festival spent over £100,000 prior to the event on social distancing measures to accommodate race fans. Managing director, Adam Waterworth said, “We didn’t mind spending the money if it advanced our cause and meant that we could get a crowd sooner by showing we could do it safely.”
“It’s [a] huge [sum], in what is already a year when you the P&L figures have no “P” involved and the “L” is getting bigger and bigger. For us, crowds are what we’re all about, between 70 percent and 80 percent of our revenue is directly attributable to people coming through the gates, that’s our business model.”
A significant blow while the sport industry is already on its knees but, under the current circumstances, is an understandable decision. It only adds frustration to fans and organisations who are hoping to return ‘back to normal’ as soon as possible. Casting even more doubt and uncertainty among fans and those planning their return.
Author: James Parker