Cricket, snooker and horse racing to stage test events with fans from this month

Crowds are set to be able to attend sporting events for the first time since March later this month as the government plans for a socially-distanced return of spectators to sports grounds by October.

The World Snooker Championship, the Glorious Goodwood horse racing festival and two county cricket friendly matches have been selected as pilot events.

If these tests are successful, the government is hoping to allow a restricted number of spectators to return to sports venues from October 1. Mass gatherings at sports stadiums have been prohibited since March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The government statement mentioned the possibility of the Surrey v Middlesex match to be played on July 26-27 being one of the events, with the World Snooker Championship due to begin on July 31.

Spectators are set to be allowed to attend Goodwood on August 1.

Sports minister Nigel Huddleston said: “For months millions of us have felt the void of being unable to go to the match to support our team or attend a top-class sporting event.

“So I am pleased that we are now able to move forward with a plan to help venues safely reopen their doors to fans.

“I recognise that not every sport, team or club has the benefit of huge commercial revenue, and it is often their dedicated fans that are the lifeblood which helps keep them going. By working closely with sports and medical experts, these pilots will help ensure the safe return of fans to stadia.

“Although it will remain some time before venues are full to capacity, this is a major step in the right direction for the resumption of live spectator sport across the country.”

Sports minister Nigel Huddleston
Sports minister Nigel Huddleston says it will be “some time” before stadiums can be at full capacity (Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament)

Attendance at sporting events for the foreseeable future will be subject to a number of strict conditions.

These include venues being ordered to provide information on measures being taken to mitigate the risk of Covid-19 infection, a code of behaviour for spectators advising them to take a responsible approach, such as staying away if suffering from any symptoms of the virus.

There will also need to be careful control of seat bookings to ensure social distancing is observed, measures taken to limit the use of public transport by spectators and the provision of additional hygiene facilities.

A statement from the Racecourse Association said: “This is potentially an important step forward in the sporting economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and the industry is grateful for the support of DCMS in selecting horse racing to be one of the sports to host a pilot event, two months after we returned safely behind closed doors.

“The RCA-led Stage 5 industry working group have also worked tirelessly in recent weeks to enable this pilot event to take place, reflecting the unique characteristics of racecourses as outdoor sporting venues.”

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