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.

UK Government suspends stadium pilot scheme amid spike in cases
Will Oliver EFE

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.”

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”.

British government to pause return of fans due to spike in COVID-19 casesLeicester (United Kingdom), 20/09/2020.- (FILE) - Players of Leicester and Burnley line up for the English Premier League soccer match between Leicester City and Burnley FC in Leicester, Britain, 20 September 2020 (re-issued on 22 September 2020).

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.

FILE PHOTO: Moss Rose GroundFILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Moss Rose Ground, Macclesfield, Britain - June 12, 2020 General view of mosaics at Moss Rose, home ground of Macclesfield Town Action Images via Reuters/Carl Recine/File Photo

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.