Plans to allow fans into a number of sporting events across the UK as a pilot for re-opening venues have been cancelled at the last minute, after the country experienced a spike in Covid-19 infection rates.
The prime minister Boris Johnson announced today (Friday) that the ban on allowing supporters into venues would be extended by at least a further two weeks, saying that “we must squeeze the brake pedal” on lifting lockdown conditions after figures appeared to show rising infections in the country for the first time since May.
Fans had hoped to be able to attend live sport in England this weekend for the first time since March. The biggest proposed event was the ‘Glorious Goodwood’ horse racing festival, where as many as 5,000 spectators were expected on Saturday.
On Friday morning, meanwhile, 500 fans watched the first session of the World Snooker Championship in Sheffield, before the government announced it was abandoning the trial. World Snooker has said ticket holders will still be admitted for the rest of the day, but the championship will continue behind closed doors from tomorrow.
The Oval and Edgbaston cricket grounds in London and Birmingham respectively were hoping to admit 2,500 cricket fans for the Bob Willis Trophy, but those matches will now also go ahead behind closed doors.
The England and Wales Cricket Board quickly issued a statement on the decision, saying: “We understand this is disappointing for supporters who have waited a long time to see their clubs in action and were looking forward to attending pilot events at the Kia Oval and Edgbaston this weekend.
“However, we understand the reasons the Government has made this decision, and remain ready to work with them to ensure supporters can safely return to stadiums when government advice allows.”
The new spells further gloom for the industry which had been pinning its hopes on a phased return to allowing fans into venues. Goodwood, for instance, is left not only counting the costs of having no spectators and fewer bets placed on races, but also has reportedly incurred costs of over £100,000 in preparing the racecourse to admit socially-distanced punters.
“It was never about the money and we weren’t going for massive revenue,” Adam Waterworth, Goodwood’s managing director, told The Guardian. “We didn’t mind spending the money if it advanced our cause and meant that we could get a crowd sooner by showing we could do it safely.
“It’s [a] huge [sum], in what is already a year when you the P&L figures have no “P” involved and the “L” is getting bigger and bigger. For us, crowds are what we’re all about, between 70 per cent and 80 per cent of our revenue is directly attributable to people coming through the gates, that’s our business model.”
World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn, meanwhile, said that the news was “a huge disappointment for fans who were excited to witness the magic of the Crucible [the venue for the World Snooker Championship] over the next fortnight” but added that “in the circumstances we are now living in we have to accept the decision and move on.”