Hull refused permission to host EFL crowd pilot event on public health grounds

Another of the EFL’s pilot events to test the return of spectators has been cancelled, with Hull’s match against Crewe now back behind closed doors on public health grounds.

On Wednesday the league confirmed 10 matches where up to 1,000 spectators would be allowed access this weekend across the three divisions, but that is now down to seven after Hull were refused permission to go ahead.

A statement from the League One club, who said they had intended to admit 600 supporters to the game, read: “Unfortunately, due to the rising infection rate in Hull over the last two weeks, we have been unable to receive approval from Hull City Council Public Health.

“Naturally, whilst we are extremely disappointed that we will not be able to welcome supporters into the KCOM Stadium this Saturday, we will continue to work closely with all of the relevant bodies in a bid to welcome supporters back to the KCOM Stadium as soon as possible.”

The director of public health at Hull City Council said the local infection rate stands at 15.3 per 100,000 people, up from 4.2 per 100,000 last week.

Championship side Luton withdrew from the pilot scheme on Wednesday, stating they did not have sufficient time to make the necessary ticketing arrangements, while League Two club Morecambe pulled out later the same day because they had not yet received the approval of the local safety advisory group.

EFL chairman Rick Parry stressed the importance of these pilot events earlier on Thursday, with a decision on whether to admit spectators to sports events more widely from October 1 under review because of the nationwide rise in cases.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that clubs were “haemorrhaging around £25million a month” due to lost matchday revenue and that the cost across the season without fans would be £200m, which he said was unsustainable.

There was more positive news from rugby union and rugby league, with two more Gallagher Premiership matches and four Betfred Super League fixtures selected as test events.

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.

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.”

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.”