Plans to return sports fans to UK stadiums are to be reconsidered, the prime minister has admitted, after the government was forced to impose new measures to limit the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
As gatherings of more than six people were banned in England from Monday, Boris Johnson said that government would “have to review and abridge” plans for the readmission of fans, which had been set to go ahead from the beginning of October.
Johnson’s remarks came on the day 2,500 spectators attended the St Leger Festival at Doncaster, though the second day of the racing meeting is to take place behind closed doors. Many other competitions will also have to scrap pilot events and will once again be in limbo over the future of their competitions, with many dependent on the return of supporters for survival.
Although Johnson said that “organised sports”, understood to mean grassroots activities and behind-closed-doors events, would be allowed to continue, he added: “We must also I’m afraid revise plans to pilot audiences and review intentions to return audiences to stadiums on October 1.
“It doesn’t mean we’re going to scrap the programme entirely but we have to review and abridge it. The culture secretary is to speak on that shortly.”
The news threw even the most financially successful sports into uncertainty with the chief executive of the Premier League, Richard Masters, saying the “main risk” to the competition was a continued loss of matchday revenue.
“All I can say is that the Premier League stand ready willing and able to continue with our test events and test proposals and open our turnstiles from October 1st if we are given permission to do so,” Masters said.
“We have three priorities for this season. Number one is to complete it with the challenges ahead and to get 380 matches away. Second is to get fans back into full stadiums. And third to get the football economy back to full health.
“If Project Restart taught us anything it is that we have to be flexible and be willing to meet the bumps in the road.
“We go into the season with a clear budget and a clear plan. The main risk to Premier League finances is through loss of matchday revenue and that depends on working with government to open turnstiles and allow fans back in.”
Speaking after the decision to place the St Leger behind closed doors, David Armstrong, the chief executive of the Racecourse Association, said: “The RCA and all in racing will be very disappointed by today’s developments. We all know how important these pilots are to securing the return of crowds.
“As the second-biggest spectator sport in the country, we pride ourselves on the quality of our sport and the entertainment it brings to so many. The health of the public and our own staff and participants is paramount, but the economic and financial pressure on the industry has already cost jobs and more will follow.”