The British government has said up to 4,000 spectators will be allowed to attend outdoor elite sporting events in the lowest-risk areas of England when a month-long lockdown to slow the spread of coronavirus is lifted next week.
The announcement on Monday will permit the resumption of attendance from December 2 at football, rugby and racecourses, among other sport. Supporters have not been allowed into sporting venues since the first lockdown was announced in March, barring a few exceptions.
The crowd ceiling will be set at 4,000, or half the stadium capacity, whichever is lower, in the lowest-risk “tier one” parts of England once a stricter lockdown due to the pandemic ends, the government said.
In “tier two” areas, the limit will be 2,000 outdoors, or half the capacity, it added. In the highest “tier three” regions where COVID-19 remains acute, no spectators will be allowed.
The government said it would announce which regions of England will be placed in each tier on Thursday, based on the latest weekly coronavirus data.
English Premier League matches have continued behind closed doors during the second lockdown announced on November 1.
Prior to the current lockdown, most of the country including London was in “tier two”. But three of the biggest Premier League clubs – Liverpool, Manchester United and Manchester City – are located in the highest “tier three” areas, so it remains to be seen whether they will be allowed to admit fans after December 2.
The government said that where spectators are allowed, only home fans will be permitted, to prevent unnecessary travel on public transport by opposing fans.
In a statement to the House of Commons, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed the end of national restrictions on December 2.
“People can leave their home, subject to the rule of six,” he said. “Wedding services, outdoor sports can resume. Leisure can resume. Sports will be able to resume inside in tier one and two with measures on social distancing.
“Enforcement will be strengthened with new powers to close down premises that pose a risk to public health.”
Indoor sport and physical activity will also resume but with some restrictions on activities due to the higher transmission risk of the novel coronavirus.
“This is a big step forward for sport. Bringing grassroots sport back was my number one priority,” the UK’s Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said in a statement.
“I’m confident 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 welcomed the move but said it hoped to quickly move to bigger capacities.
“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,” it said.
“Our priority continues to be the agreement of a roadmap, with DCMS (Department for Digital, Culture, Media Sport) and the Sports Technology and Innovation Group, for pilot events that can help our clubs quickly scale up to larger capacities in line with the Sports Ground Safety Authority’s COVID-secure guidelines and beyond.
“Premier League clubs have a proven track record of achieving high-biosecurity standards and we believe we can play a significant role in the Government’s rapid turnaround testing initiative,” it added.
The Football League (EFL), which organises football in the Championship and lower two divisions, was also encouraged.
“Whilst today’s news is subject to regional restrictions, it is an important step in achieving a return to normal, alongside it being crucial to addressing the significant revenue gap left by a lack of spectators and other revenue streams as a result of the pandemic,” the league said.
Lower league clubs are already struggling and awaiting a long-promised rescue package from the lucrative Premier League.
The Football Supporters’ Association also welcomed the government’s announcement.
“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,” they said in a statement.