Coronavirus wrap: Greg Clarke fears fans unlikely to return ‘any time soon’

Football Association chairman Greg Clarke fears fans will not be returning to stadiums “any time soon” as the World Aquatics Championships and Women’s Tour cycling announced its events would be rearranged.

The Premier League and English Football League both accept that any resumption to their schedule in the immediate future must take place behind closed doors because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It is understood top-flight clubs were told on Friday that the remaining matches of the 2019-20 season must be played at neutral venues.

Clarke fears fans will not return
Clarke fears fans will not return “any time soon” (Bradley Collyer/PA)

In a letter to the FA Council, sent on Friday, Clarke said: “The reality is that we just don’t know how things are going to pan out.

“But with social distancing in place for some time to come we do face substantial changes to the whole football ecosystem.

“For example it’s hard to foresee crowds of fans – who are the lifeblood of the game – returning to matches any time soon.”

Clarke added that the ongoing uncertainty means that the board has agreed a “sensible” £75million budget cut.

He said: “In a worst-case scenario, this would be necessary for the next four years to offset a £300m deficit.”

With the Tokyo Olympic Games moved to 2021 because of the coronavirus crisis, FINA, swimming’s world governing body, has announced next year’s World Aquatics Championships will instead take place from May 13-29, 2022.

“After liaising with the relevant stakeholders and receiving feedback from them, we have no doubt that the decision taken will provide the best possible conditions for all participants at the championships,” FINA president Dr Julio C Maglione said on the organisation’s official website.

“We look forward to witnessing the world’s best aquatic athletes from around the world competing in the city of Fukuoka (JPN) in 2022.

“At a time of unprecedented uncertainty, FINA hopes the announcement of these dates will allow for some clarity in planning for all concerned.”

The Women’s Tour, the UK’s first international stage race for women which has been held for the last six years, will be rearranged for June 2021.

Lizzie Deignan won the 2019 Women's Tour (Simon Cooper/PA)
Lizzie Deignan won the 2019 Women’s Tour (Simon Cooper/PA)

With the UCI due to announce a revised schedule on Tuesday, SweetSpot Group, organisers of the Women’s Tour, said this year’s event will not go ahead, having initially postponed the race in mid-March.

Hugh Roberts from SweetSpot Group said: “Following discussions with stakeholders and sponsors, as well as British Cycling and the UCI, we have decided to work towards June 2021 for the next edition of the Women’s Tour, and will not seek to re-arrange the race later in 2020.

“We recognise the unprecedented nature of the current global situation and the challenges for the UCI calendar and so wanted to take an early decision not to look for an alternative 2020 date.”

EFL chairman Rick Parry will discuss how his clubs have been affected, while England and Wales Cricket Board chief executive Tom Harrison and his Rugby Football Union counterpart Bill Sweeney have also been called to an evidence session before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee on Tuesday.

Later in the morning Dame Katherine Grainger, chair of elite sports funding body UK Sport, will appear before the committee, with Sport England chief executive Tim Hollingsworth also invited to look at the impact of the pandemic on grassroots sport.

An update from ECB on the recreational game.

For more information on Emergency Support Funding, head here: https://t.co/xD2YHRR79Fpic.twitter.com/DjOyZOfUku

— England and Wales Cricket Board (@ECB_cricket) May 1, 2020

The ECB has suspended professional cricket until July 1 at the earliest and has had to delay its new flagship competition The Hundred until next year, while on Friday evening it announced its recommendation for the continued hiatus of all forms of recreational cricket.

The RFU has said it expects to miss out on £50million of revenue as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic, while UK Sport faces a challenge in funding Olympic and Paralympic sports.

Grainger said in March that her organisation was in “uncharted territory” because of the postponement of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games until 2021, and that Government assistance will be needed.

The current funding cycle runs to March 2021.

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