Covid spike leads government to pause return of fans to sports stadiums

Covid spike leads government to pause return of fans to sports stadiums

The government is set to pause its plans for the partial return of fans to all sports stadiums on 1 October because of the rapid spike in Covid-19 cases, the Guardian understands. While a decision is yet to be confirmed, sources say that the “mood music” now makes it very unlikely that supporters will be allowed back at a time when greater curbs are being introduced across Great Britain.

The prime minister is also facing growing pressure to avert the looming crisis in professional and grassroots sport, with a letter signed by the leaders of more than 100 sports organisations – including the Premier League, Football Association, Rugby Football Union and UK Athletics – warning of the risk of a “lost generation” of sport and activity if he fails to act.

The letter urges the government to set up a “comprehensive support package” for the sport and physical sector combining investment, tax incentives, and regulatory reform in order to help clubs, organisations and facilities stabilise and survive. “We are united in our concern that at a time when our role should be central to the nation’s recovery, the future of the sector is perilous,” the letter states. “Covid–19 has exposed the fragility of vital services and assets, with sports clubs and fitness facilities facing permanent closure, depriving local communities of facilities and programmes on which they depend.

“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.”

The Premier League wrote to the government this month to warn that football stands to lose £100m a month while games are played behind closed doors. The RFU plans to make 139 staff redundant as it tries to cope with £107m in lost revenue while last week the ECB also announced 62 job losses and said it has lost £100m already this year.

In a speech to the Sport & Recreation Alliance annual conference on Monday, the sports minister, Nigel Huddleston, insisted the government is “putting sporting and health at the heart of its coronavirus agenda”. However, he admitted: “It’s no exaggeration to say that the pandemic has profoundly affected the sporting landscape, and will continue to do so for many months to come.”