Premiership rugby and Super League matches given green light for crowd pilot

Two more Gallagher Premiership matches and four Betfred Super League fixtures have been selected as test events for the return of fans to sporting venues.

Up to 1,000 spectators will be allowed to attend Bath against Gloucester at the Recreation Ground next Tuesday and Bristol against Leicester at Ashton Gate on September 30.

The same applies to the Super League matches on September 30 between Wigan and St Helens, Castleford and Hull, Huddersfield and Hull KR, and Leeds and Catalans Dragons.

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The Government is granting permission for selected sporting fixtures to be used as pilot events for the programme to reintroduce spectators to venues – on a socially-distanced basis – amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Gallagher Premiership’s first match with fans back in attendance came on September 5 when Harlequins hosted Bath, and then there were 1,000 present on Monday when Gloucester played Harlequins at Kingsholm.

Premiership Rugby chief executive Darren Childs said in a statement: “We are delighted that following the success of the first two ‘pilot’ matches at the Twickenham Stoop and Kingsholm, another two Gallagher Premiership Rugby matches have been given the green light from the government.

“We saw in those matches how important it is for spectators to be present at live sport and we value the trust that the Government have placed in us for additional pilot games.”

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Sports minister Nigel Huddleston said in a statement from the Rugby Football League: “We recognise that many RFL clubs are operating on very tight financial margins and the professional game is facing unprecedented pressure but we are doing all we can to help.

“On top of the recent £16million emergency support we have provided to safeguard the immediate future of the sport, I am pleased that we are working closely with the RFL to run a number of capped, Covid secure, and socially distanced pilots during the remainder of September. This will help us continue to build the evidence base to assess how fans can return in greater numbers, as soon as it is safe to do so.”

RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer added: “The return of crowds is vital to sports including Rugby League. Pilot events are steps in the right direction, demonstrating that socially distanced crowds can be managed, and we are delighted that Rugby League will add to this learning across the sports sector.”

It comes after the news on Wednesday that eight English Football League matches this weekend were set to be played in front of crowds of up to 1,000.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday, EFL chairman Rick Parry stressed the need for supporters to return to stadiums “because we are haemorrhaging around £25m a month” and “the cost across the season to us is £200m, which is not sustainable”.

He added that the EFL was working on trying to secure financial rescue packages and that “we need solutions really very, very quickly”. Parry said the EFL does not regard clubs going out of business as inevitable and emphasised “our aim is to keep every single one of them alive if at all possible”.

Parry also said the plan for the socially-distant return of fans is “entirely compatible with the rule of six”.

He said: “We understand completely the rule on the gatherings of six but in terms of the social distancing within stadiums, it is entirely compatible with the rule of six.

EFL chairman Rick Parry (Mike Egerton/PA).
EFL chairman Rick Parry (Mike Egerton/PA).

“And actually, we believe that given we’re the most regulated industry in the country when it comes to managing large events, that we can be an exemplar, and actually, as we look for positive solutions during the coronavirus crisis, we can set examples of how to return to a degree of normality safely, with social distancing in place.”

Any social gathering of more than six people in England is against the law, with people facing fines if they do not abide by the new measure, which applies to both indoor and outdoor settings.

Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder made reference to the rule of six when he was asked about fans returning to stadiums and expressed his bemusement at the situation.

“I just don’t where we are with it all, I’ve got to say, I haven’t got a clue,” Wilder said ahead of his side’s Carabao Cup clash with Burnley.

“Am I allowed to see my nan? Am I allowed to see my mum? But then we can have 1,000 people in a ground but we can’t have 15,000 and then I can’t go and have a pint with my mates unless there’s only six of us.

“So I’ve got to say I’m like the majority of the people in this country – I have not got a clue what’s going off, haven’t got a clue.”