Dowden outlines hopes for ‘full return’ of fans to sports stadiums next year

A “full return” of fans to sports stadiums is hoped for by autumn 2021, according to the Culture Secretary.

Oliver Dowden expressed his ambitions as he was pressed to ensure the 2021 Rugby League World Cup takes place in England next October.

Mr Dowden also told MPs he wants spectator numbers at sporting events to increase “as rapidly as possible”, although he highlighted the tier restrictions in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Capacity is limited to a maximum of 4,000 people in the lowest-risk Tier 1 areas, a maximum of 2,000 people in Tier 2, and no access in Tier 3.

Speaking in the Commons, Conservative MP Andy Carter (Warrington South) asked Mr Dowden to look at what support the Government could provide in terms of insurance and indemnity to allow planning for next year’s Rugby League World Cup.

He added: “It is due to take place across the North of England next year … concerns of course because of Covid and the risks that such an important tournament might not be able to take place.”

Coronavirus – Mon Oct 12, 2020
Coronavirus – Mon Oct 12, 2020

Mr Dowden highlighted financial assistance provided to the sport, adding: “We’re very much looking forward to it as the main event of 2021. Of course we’re working very, very closely indeed with them.

“He’s absolutely right to raise the risks around Covid. I very much hope by that point we’ll be able to have full return of fans to stadiums, but of course we’ll ensure that contingencies are in place.”

The tournament is scheduled to begin in 316 days’ time, on October 23.

Conservative MP Karl McCartney (Lincoln) earlier said: “As (Mr Dowden) is aware, my constituency of Lincoln is home to the mighty Imps – something my constituents and I are very proud of.

“Whilst the partial resumption of fan attendance is positive news, this does not end the concern clubs and fans have.

“Will (Mr Dowden) confirm his plans to see a full return of fans and what further financial support can be provided for those clubs that have had a very difficult 2020?”

Mr Dowden replied: “I know that (Mr McCartney) is not impish in his devotion to Lincoln City and it is good to see them doing so well this season.

“First of all, I’m pleased the deal that has been reached between the Premier League and the EFL – £250 million, which I am confident will secure the game through to the end of the season.

“Of course we want it to reopen as rapidly as possible.

“The first important step for somewhere like Lincolnshire is to get out of Tier 3, into Tier 2 and then Tier 1, and you’ll see more fans able to attend as we go through that process.”