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Premier League defers fan test events amid financial concerns over government restrictions

Brighton's Amex Stadium hosted a pilot event earlier in the summer (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

The Premier League has written to the UK government today to express its concerns with the latest restrictions placed on the return of fans to live sporting events in the country.

The government has placed a limit of 1,000 spectators on any test events that take place in the coming weeks, which the Premier League argues is too low to meaningfully evaluate the safety measures put in place and would therefore be deferring all planned test events until after the limit is raised.

“At 1,000 supporters, not only would there be little to learn from a test event, but each match would be heavily loss-making,” the league’s statement said. 

It went on: “For each month of the season without fans, more than £100m is lost to football across the leagues, with consequential damage to the local and national economy. It also harms the employment prospects of more than 100,000 people whose jobs depend on matchday activities.

“The Premier League recognises the ambition of [the] Government’s Operation Moonshot and will support the project’s objectives to get fans back into stadiums. However, we believe measures are already available which would allow the safe return of fans and should also be activated now.

“As the Government begins its review of the 1 October date for the return of spectators to sport, the Premier League asks that the high safety standards which can be achieved by our clubs are fully taken into account before any decision is taken and that sport is not left behind other industries.” 

A successful test event was held last month between Premier League sides Brighton and Chelsea, at the former’s Amex Stadium, with 2,500 fans in attendance.

That, however, was before a sharp rise in new cases of coronavirus across areas of England. News broke on Friday afternoon that the R rate in the UK – the rate at which each Covid-19 infected person is spreading the virus to others – had hit 1.7, with cases doubling each week since the lifting of lockdown conditions. 

Arsenal’s home fixture on October 3 against Sheffield United had been earmarked as a potential test event, but is unlikely to go ahead as such unless the restrictions are lifted.

Aston Villa chief executive Christian Purslow has also hit out at the government’s new restrictions, saying that sample sizes of less than 1,000 were not relevant. He told BBC Radio 4: ”The only thing you will learn from having 1,000 fans in a stadium in a football test event is that football clubs lose huge amounts of money when their stadiums are empty and that has a profound impact on the economy of football.”

The Premier League’s official address to the government follows its chief executive Richard Masters saying earlier this week that returning fans to venues was “absolutely critical” for the league, warning of collective losses of £700m (€756m/$895m) to clubs if the entire 2020-21 season were to be played behind closed doors.