London, 24 November 2020 (dpa/MIA) – Up to 4,000 spectators in the lowest coronavirus risk areas will be allowed to attend stadiums and arenas in England from December 2, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed on Monday.
England is currently under a second lockdown due to a rise in coronavirus cases, but this will be lifted, with permissions given to gyms and leisure centres to reopen.
Elite sport has continued during the closure, and many stadiums have been crowdless since March 13, when the pandemic forced the first lockdown.
However, Johnson says the number of spectators at each event will depend on which part of the three-tiered alert system a venue belongs to. There will be no spectators in an area belonging to tier 3, while up to 2,000 will be allowed in tier 2, with indoor venues being restricted to 1,000.
“Spectator sports and business events will be free to resume inside and outside with capacity limits and social distancing,” said Johnson.
The prime minister added that he will announce which areas belong under the tiered system on Thursday.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden described the decision as “a big step forward for sport.”
“I’m also delighted we are able to get the turnstiles turning sooner than expected,” he added.
“I’m confident that sports will take every step to ensure their fans are safe, and fans will play their part and look out for each other until we can safely get everyone back in.”
The Premier League had been pressuring the government for the return of fans, expressing concern that its 20 clubs could lose up to 700 million pounds (933 million dollars) in revenue.
Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United are clubs that have announced losses in the region of 70 million pounds due to lack of ticket revenues and repayments to TV broadcasters after some games were televised live on public channels.
A Premier League statement said: “We welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement today regarding the return of supporters for the first time since March, albeit at small numbers.
“Our ambition remains to work with Government to increase attendance to more substantial levels. Until this can be done, many fans will be unable to attend games, and our clubs will continue to operate matches at a financial loss.”
Lower down the football pyramid, the English Football League (EFL) has fixtures planned for December 1-2 but no plans have been announced to move them for the return of fans. “For many lower-league and non-league clubs in particular, getting paying fans into stadiums safely is absolutely critical to their survival during a very difficult season,” said the Football Association (FA)
“Clubs, leagues and the Sports Ground Safety Authority have worked hard to put in procedures to make stadiums safe places and we hope this is the first step on the road back to normality.”
For Rugby Union, a game where a majority of clubs are in the south of England, Premiership Rugby chief executive Darren Childs said they “won’t know the exact impact” until Thursday’s announcement.
“Keeping the league intact has been my number one priority during the pandemic,” Childs said. “Now we have the foundations from which to grow the game and build longer-term financial stability.”
British world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua is due to fight Bulgaria’s Kubrat Pulev on December 12 at Wembley Arena, which could include 1,000 spectators.
Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn said “we will make an announcement in due course.”
Recreational sports can continue but in tiers 1 and 2, the rules of six and household mixing will apply. People in the highest tier 3 will be restricted to their own households with no group activities.