Sports clubs and associations in England are facing up to the bleak prospect of six further months without spectators after plans for a fans’ return next month were scrapped.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the House of Commons that the Government could not go ahead with the planned reopening of venues on a socially-distanced basis from October 1 due to a second wave of coronavirus infections. The plan would have seen venues capped at between 25 and 35 per cent of capacity.
He suggested the measures introduced on Tuesday would remain in place for “perhaps six months”, making it almost certain that the sports sector will need some financial support from the Government to prevent an unprecedented loss of professional and grassroots clubs from the landscape.
Sports governing bodies held an emergency meeting with the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden late on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the impact of the delay in spectators returning, and it is understood the talks will move at a fast pace and seek to identify where the help is most urgently and critically needed. However, no announcement on a rescue plan for the sector is expected on Tuesday.
The plight of EFL clubs has been well-documented, with its chairman Rick Parry stating they would lose a collective £200million if the entire 2020-21 season had to be played behind closed doors. Talks continue between the EFL and the Premier League over a rescue package, and it is understood the Government’s position remains that the English top flight should be the ones to provide financial aid to the EFL.
Dale Vince, the chairman of League Two club Forest Green, told the PA news agency the loss of fan revenue was “a major additional impact that many clubs will not be able to withstand”.
He called on the Government and the Premier League to work out a rescue package for the EFL between them.
However, the Premier League said the continued absence of supporters was starting to have a “devastating impact” on its clubs and their communities, and that a safe, swift return of spectators was vital just to enable it to continue its existing obligations to the football pyramid such as solidarity payments.
The league reiterated that its clubs lost £700million due to the pandemic-related disruption to last season, and that English football would lose a collective £100m a month every month without fans. It is understood there is no scheduled Premier League clubs meeting this week but a decision will need to be made over the course of the remainder of the month about arrangements to screen all matches in October, now that they too will be behind closed doors.
Dowden also confirmed that pilot events scheduled for the remainder of September had been cancelled. Each event had been capped at a maximum capacity of 1,000, regardless of venue size.
Two Premiership Rugby matches – Bath v Gloucester on Tuesday night and Bristol v Leicester next week – will now be played behind closed doors, as will a race meeting at Newmarket later this week.
Internationally, the Rugby Football Union faces a grim autumn and winter without spectators at Twickenham for the autumn internationals and the Six Nations. The Football Association had been hoping to welcome supporters in for England’s friendly against Wales next month.
DCMS confirmed that clubs at the seventh tier of the football pyramid and below will still be able to admit spectators, provided venues are Covid-secure.