Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has called for “consistency” from the Government and urged them to allow spectators back into sports matches.
A rise in coronavirus cases in the UK paused plans to re-open stadiums on a partial basis from October 1, and the Premier League is among the governing bodies who wrote an open letter urging the Government to reconsider this proposal.
League champions Liverpool were among the clubs who backed the letter, while Manchester United joined the EFL’s Twitter account in sharing a petition to let football fans attend matches at all levels.
- Governing bodies call for safe return of fans
- Premier League ‘may be reluctant’ to bail out EFL clubs
- Fans flocking to non-League games
As of Thursday morning that petition had surpassed 180,000 signatures, comfortably beyond the 100,000-mark required to be a topic of debate in Parliament.
Speaking to The Times, Masters said sport must be treated “as fairly as other activities” given concert venues are currently allowed to hold socially-distanced events indoors.
Masters said: “It’s good news that [concert] venues can run socially-distanced events indoors, it gives them a lifeline. We are starting to see the return of the paying spectator at a ticketed event and we just believe that football should be allowed to do the same.
Current rules for performing arts
Currently at Stage Four of the Government’s plans, performing arts are currently allowed to hold outdoor performances plus indoor events with socially-distancing audiences.
London’s O2 Arena is pushing forward with plans to welcome 4,700 spectators to concerts in December, while the Royal Albert Hall announced plans for a maximum 2,500-strong crowd for upcoming events this Christmas.
“We do understand why caution is needed but what we are asking for is consistency from government so that sport is treated as fairly as other activities.
“We are a highly regulated environment. We have the Sports Grounds Safety Authority in place to ensure that supporters are safe at all times and we’re outdoors in a highly stewarded environment. What we really need is clarity for our clubs and supporters and a road map from government.”
Masters said Premier League clubs feel as though they have been hit by a “quadruple whammy” and was critical of the notion that top-tier clubs should bail out teams in the EFL while their own doors remain closed.
There has also been dialogue with counterparts in Germany, Masters revealed, with the Bundesliga starting its season with a capacity at 20 per cent so long as the seven-day rate of infection is below or equal to 35 per 100,000 in the local region.
“There’s a frustration that there is that inconsistency and we would urge the Government to treat sport in the same way as the entertainment industry,” Masters added.
“The clubs feel they have been hit with a quadruple whammy – firstly that the optimism of October 1 has been taken away; secondly that there will be a sports bailout but that it wouldn’t include football; thirdly that the Premier League will be expected to secure the future of the EFL while dealing with the implications of having no fans until possibly March; finally the opening up of entertainment arenas within sometimes a couple of miles of football grounds without any road map for the return of football supporters.
“The Government is managing the country around local conditions so we have to be flexible in that respect. We have been in regular conversation with our German counterparts and we are aware of how it’s working and how it is not working for some clubs where the numbers are higher. Like everything, you have to start somewhere and just to do it would be fantastic.”
English football’s open letter to Government
Along with Masters, EFL CEO David Baldwin, FA chief executive Mark Bullingham and FA Director of Women’s Professional Game Kelly Simmons all signed a letter which calls for the return of the test-event programme and consistency in Government policy regarding the re-opening of certain venues and events.
The full letter reads…
The Premier League, EFL, The FA, Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship want to assure all fans that together we are fully committed to your safe return to football grounds as soon as possible.
The health of the nation remains our overriding priority, and for many months we have been working with experts to make our grounds as safe as, if not safer than, any other public activity currently allowed. And we are consulting with the Football Supporters’ Association to keep supporters updated every step of the way.
An open letter to supporters from the @premierleague, @FA and @EFL.
We know attendance at matches can play a positive role in people’s lives during these challenging times. And the past few months have shown how clubs can still feel the support of their fans. Even when you have been unable to get together, you and your clubs have found ways to make a difference in your communities, with clubs delivering food parcels, taking part in phone calls and online conversations with fans, the elderly and vulnerable and moving services and programmes online to make a difference in unprecedented and challenging circumstances.
But we all know football is not the same without fans. Every player and manager is missing the direct connection with you and the impact that you have on our games.
United supports the campaign to #LetFansIn.
We back the petition to allow fans to attend games.#MUFC https://t.co/hI9tjAwHaS
With the EFL, Premier League, Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship already staging 11 successful test events recently, we have demonstrated that we can deliver matches safely. The sooner we can return, the sooner we can reunite communities and support local jobs, livelihoods, regional businesses and also the national economy.
We will continue to urge Government to allow us to return fans safely to stadiums. It is positive progress that major arts and music venues have been told they can run socially-distanced events indoors. And now football should be allowed to do the same – in highly regulated and stewarded outdoor environments.
Additionally, representatives from football are active members of the Government’s Sports Technology and Innovation Group, as well as being involved with their ‘Moonshot’ mass-testing project to open up the economy. And in light of the postponement of test events we will intensify our efforts to pioneer new approaches – working with epidemiologists, scientists and medical experts in areas such as public health, clinical processes and occupational hygiene. This will make sure stadiums are COVID-safe by considering best practice screening and hygiene methods to ensure that fans and the general public will be safe and drive the Government’s sporting plans to move faster.
Petition: Allow football fans to attend matches at all levels.#EFL | #LetFansIn https://t.co/ooZWFGpYW3
Stadium environments can be modified and carefully managed. Measures could include screening spectators before they enter the ground, installing temperature checks, requiring masks to be worn, one-way systems and providing a code of conduct for all those attending on a matchday. This will all be bolstered by deep-cleaning practices to help further reduce the risk of virus transmission.
Clubs want to be pro-active on this matter and are considering measures both in the stadium and on the approach that will allay any concerns as to fans’ safety. From a travel perspective, clubs will work closely with experts and local authorities to model solutions relevant for each stadium to ease pressure on public transport, while extra parking facilities could be available so a greater proportion of you can travel by private car or bicycle.
Please sign and share…👍🏻 https://t.co/DNs5NHQ32L
We are determined to identify a path forward with Government. We need clarity for our clubs and for you as supporters as to what the roadmap for change in this area looks like. We all know why caution is needed, and we ask Government for consistency in their policy so sport is treated as fairly as other activities currently allowed to welcome spectators.
So, we will continue to urge the relevant authorities to let us, together, use innovative ways to bring fans safely back into football grounds, starting with a return of the test event programme. If we do so, then the benefits will be felt not just by fans but throughout society and the economy.
Richard Masters, Premier League Chief Executive
David Baldwin, EFL Chief Executive
Mark Bullingham, The FA Chief Executive
Kelly Simmons, The FA Director of Women’s Professional Game
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