With COVID-19 cases increasing overseas, authorities have decided to press pause on reopening in the United Kingdom, including a planned return of fans to sports stadiums. The decision means that clubs will need to continue to play in front of empty stadiums for the foreseeable future rather than allowing a small number in on October 1st and more down the road.
“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,” Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove told the BBC Monday.
Boris Johnson indicated on Tuesday that restrictions are likely to remain in place – including the ban on sports attendance and other live events where crowds have been largely banned since March – for another six months. The news was not well received by officials involved with teams and league organizations, as it means many more months of drastic revenue reductions will continue into 2021.
“The announcement that supporters will not be allowed into stadiums for up to six months cuts off crucial revenue for clubs who have already suffered significant financial losses from suspending the season and playing matches behind closed doors since March,” Premiership Rugby chief executive Darren Childs said. “We believe the lack of supporters in our grounds could cause irreparable damage to our clubs and the communities they serve, so we must find a way forward to avoid this.”
Plans had been hatched to pilot a return of fans to the sporting grounds as of October 1st over the summer, as case numbers plummeted from an average of nearly 5,000 per day in April and May down to under 1,000 by late June. Numbers began to climb again, however, in August. By the end of the month, the seven day average of new cases had risen to 1,322. As of September 21, that average has nearly quadrupled, rising to 4,368. The rate of fatalities attributed to the disease, thankfully, has not seen a similar rebound, though health authorities often point to the fact that case fatalities often trail new cases by several weeks, in terms of timing of the impact of a surge.
“We have to acknowledge the spread of the virus is now affecting our ability to reopen large sporting events,” said Johnson.