UK Government suspends stadium pilot scheme amid spike in cases
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will tonight announce that the proposed return of supporters to sports stadiums will be put on hold as fears rise about the financial state of English football.
Just days after fans returned to English league football for the first time in over six months, the government today confirmed that the scheme will be paused due to a dramatic spike in Covid-19 cases. Cabinet Minister Michael Gove announced on BBC Breakfast that the trials, which were well-received by both clubs and supporters, would have to be put on hold while the UK tries to control the rising infection rate:
“We do want to, in due course, allow people to return to watch football and other sporting events but it is the case that we just need to be cautious at the moment and I think a mass reopening at this stage wouldn’t be appropriate.”
"We're looking at how we can pause that programme"— BBC Breakfast (@BBCBreakfast) September 22, 2020
Michael Gove MP reveals on #BBCBreakfast the government are planning to postpone the return of fans to sporting events, which was due to start on 1st October.https://t.co/jNXmXEv29j pic.twitter.com/DqX4dBnvRH
Last weekend seven games in the Championship, League One and League Two were held in front of 1,000 home supporters to trial the new in-stadium social distancing precautions. AS spoke to Ken Scott of the Sports Grounds Safety Authority about the new measures back in July and he believed that the trial scheme would be a vital step in getting supporters back into stadiums
Earlier this month the Premier League sent a letter to the government urging them not to abandon plans to see fans return to stadiums, citing the financial implications if games have to continue behind closed doors. The government had previously set a target of October 1 to get supporters back into stadiums and sports minister Nigel Huddleston said at the time that he “would be surprised if that date was moved”.
Premier League CEO Richard Masters claimed that the top flight alone lost around £700million due to the pandemic during the 2019/20 season. Across the leagues, football stands to lose huge amounts if football is forced to continue without supporters in attendance.
"For each month of the season without fans, more than £100m is lost to football across the leagues, with consequent damage to the local and national economy”, said Masters.
Financial support needed for struggling clubs
The news comes just days after it was announced that Macclesfield Town, a 146-year-old sporting institution from South Manchester, would be wound up due to mounting debts. Southend United are believed to be close to suffering a similar fate and have been given until 28 October to pay nearly £500,000 owed to debtors.
Without fans in stadiums the majority of professional and grassroots sports teams will struggle to stay afloat and governing bodies have called on the government to offer support. A letter signed by representatives from over 100 sports organisations, including the Premier League and the Football Association, called their prospects for the future “perilous”.
It continues: “Covid-19 has undermined our commercial revenue streams with both stadia and leisure facilities closed or greatly reduced in capacity. The impact of this will potentially lead to a lost generation of sport and activity. In order to play our fullest role, we must survive and stabilise.”
With the UK’s coronavirus alert level now raised from three to four, there are now serious fears about the continuation of the 2020/21 season in the lower leagues.
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