Capacity crowd in UK venues boon or bane?



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England on high risk road Image: F1, Wembley Stadium & MJR Group Ltd./Coliseum

England has announced capacity crowd for the upcoming sporting extravaganzas – British Grand Prix and the Wimbledon Finals, and 60,000 fans at Wembley for Euro 2020 which is presently underway.

The above announcement comes as music to the ears for ‘cooped up’ fans, players, stadia operators, and the sports bodies. But, rising cases of COVID-19 due to the Delta variant in the United Kingdom has left a lot of residents worried and subscribing to caution, the Prime Minister of United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, has extended the lockdown in the country till July 19th, 2021. In fact, experts fear a third wave in the UK.

The World Health Organization has stated that the Delta variant has been reported in 85 countries around the globe and experts have warned that the Delta Plus variant may defeat vaccines, antibodies and prior immunity. Moreover, the Delta variant, first detected in India in late 2020, is believed to be more contagious than other variants of COVID-19.

Against such a backdrop, is England on the full/high risk road and is it giving an open invite to the deadly virus variant by holding sporting events to capacity crowd? The days ahead will give a clearer picture of the same.

A lot of people are questioning the Boris Johnson Government’s logic – on the one hand it has extended the lockdown while on the other hand it is allowing packed houses as part of its Events Research Programme.
 

Sporting events’ lowdown

 

British Grand Prix

The Silverstone Circuit in England will operate at full strength for the British Grand Prix in July, translating into the fact that more than 140,000 spectators could be in attendance for the Formula 1 race.

‘Sky Sports’ stated that the British Grand Prix will take place on July 18th, a day before coronavirus restrictions are set to be lifted in the United Kingdom, but a full crowd will be allowed after organizers secured test event status for the weekend’s racing.

The 1,50,000-capacity Silverstone Circuit is a motor racing circuit in England (UK), near the Northamptonshire villages of Silverstone and Whittlebury. It is the current home of the British Grand Prix, which it first hosted as the 1948 British Grand Prix.

The British Grand Prix is a Grand Prix motor race organized in the United Kingdom by the Royal Automobile Club. First held in 1926, the British Grand Prix has been held annually since 1948 and has been a round of the FIA Formula One World Championship every year since 1950. This year it will be held from July 16th-18th.

Formula One (also known as Formula 1 or F1) is the highest class of international auto racing for single-seater formula racing cars sanctioned by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA).

In 2019, the British Grand Prix attracted a race-day attendance of 141,000.

‘Sky Sports’ quoted Stefano Domenicali, President-cum-CEO, Formula 1, as stating, “It is fantastic news that Silverstone will be a full capacity event and it will be an incredible weekend with hundreds of thousands of fans being there to see our first ever Sprint event on the Saturday and the main event on Sunday.”

Added Domenicali, “I want to express my huge appreciation to the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, Secretaries of State, Oliver Dowden and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove and Silverstone’s Managing Director, Stuart Pringle, for their tireless work to achieve this great outcome. All of the drivers and the teams are hugely looking forward to Silverstone and we can’t wait to be there in July.”

Organizers informed that they will be in touch with all ticket holders in the coming days with further details about how the weekend will run as a pilot event.

In a statement, it was confirmed ticket holders will be asked for either proof of a negative lateral flow test taken within 48 hours of arrival at Silverstone, or proof of full coronavirus vaccination – the second dose having been received at least 14 days prior to the first day of attending the British Grand Prix.

Sky F1’s Martin Brundle maintained, “This so important for the British Formula 1 fans, and Formula 1 fans in general. Silverstone really needed that piece of news, and so did Formula 1. It’s really important. The atmosphere is always great at the track and hopefully we can take another great race to the British Grand Prix.”

Silverstone staged two behind-closed-door races last summer but have been working in close collaboration with the Government and local health officials to have fans return safely for 2021.

Silverstone Circuits Limited Managing Director Stuart Pringle commented, “Without a large crowd this year, we were going to go bust. As simple as that. We have been sustained by the fans.”
 

Sprint Qualifying Format

This year’s British Grand Prix holds additional significance for F1 due to the fact it will be the venue for the sport’s new trial Sprint Qualifying Format.

Ensuring there is competitive F1 track action on all three days of the event, the new short Saturday race of around half an hour in duration will set the grid for the main Grand Prix on Sunday.
 

Euro 2020

Football fiends the world over are glued to their television screens to watch their favorite sporting heroes in action for the soccer extravaganza – Euro 2020 – which is presently underway in 11 European Cities.

‘BBC Sport’ quoted the UK Government as stating that the crowd capacity at Wembley will be raised to more than 60,000 for the semi-finals and final of Euro 2020. This means the legendary venue will be at 75 percent capacity for the soccer showcase.

The increase will also see the largest crowds assembled for a sporting event in the United Kingdom in more than 15 months since COVID-19 struck in March 2020 and till date continues with its ‘Dance of Death’ the world over.

Euro 2020 presently underway is the 16th UEFA European Championship, the quadrennial international men’s football championship of Europe organized by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA). It is being held from June 11th and will conclude on July 11th, 2021.

The 90,000-capacity Wembley Stadium is a football stadium in Wembley, London (UK). It opened in 2007 on the site of the original Wembley Stadium, which was demolished from 2002 to 2003. The stadium hosts major football matches including home matches of the England national football team, and the FA Cup Final.

Gushed UEFA boss Aleksander Ceferin, “It is great news that so many fans will be able to watch the final three matches of Euro 2020 at Wembley.”

‘BBC Sport’ further stated that the UK Government has postponed lifting all restrictions until July 19th, but the game at Wembley, along with certain other sporting events, is being allowed extra crowd capacity under its Events Research Programme.

The UK Government’s Events Research Programme aims to examine the risk of transmission of COVID-19 from attendance at events and explore ways to enable people to attend a range of events safely.

Wembley’s capacity has been reduced to 22,500 for group fixtures at Euro 2020, but that is set to be expanded to 45,000 – around 50 percent of full capacity – for two knockout games in the last 16 before the semi-finals on July 6th and July 7th and final on July 11th.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi had called for the final to be moved from England because of rising coronavirus cases in the country but UEFA said it had “no plans” to do so.

There was also speculation that the semi-finals and final of the European Championship could be moved from London to Budapest (Hungary) if VIPs were not given an exemption to England’s strict quarantine rules, and talks on that issue are continuing.

Added Ceferin.”This tournament has been a beacon of hope to reassure people that we are returning to a more normal way of life and this is a further step along that road. I am grateful to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the UK Government for their hard work in finalizing these arrangements with us, to make the tournament final stages a great success in Wembley.”

Fans attending the games at Wembley will need to follow a number of strict entry requirements, including having a negative COVID-19 test or proof of full vaccination, which means two vaccine doses, 14 days before the fixture they are attending.

Asserted Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, “As we continue to make progress on our roadmap out of lockdown, keeping the public safe remains our top priority. We have worked extremely closely with UEFA and the Football Association to ensure rigorous and tight public health measures are in place whilst allowing more fans to see the action live. The finals promise to be an unforgettable moment in our national recovery from the pandemic.”

However, the World Health Organization (WHO) is not at all comfortable with the fact that the UK is allowing capacity crowd at sporting fixtures and is “concerned about easing of restrictions in some of the host countries” for games at Euro 2020, as per Robb Butler, an Executive Director at the WHO’s Regional Office for Europe.
 

Wimbledon

The most prestigious Grand Slam eventWimbledon (UK) – will also be held with capacity crowd.

The UK Government has said Wimbledon will be allowed to have a full crowd of 15,000 at the Centre Court for the men’s and women’s finals next month, a year after the tournament was canceled entirely because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Championships, Wimbledon, commonly known simply as Wimbledon or The Championships, is the oldest tennis tournament in the world and is widely regarded as the most prestigious.

The 2021 Wimbledon Championships is a planned Grand Slam tennis tournament that is scheduled to take place at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC) in Wimbledon, London, United Kingdom. Novak Djokovic and Simona Halep are the defending singles champions from when the tournament was last held in 2019. This year’s tennis showpiece will be held from June 28th to July 11th.

The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC), also known as the All England Club, based at Church Road, Wimbledon, London, England, is a private members’ club. It is best known as the venue for the Wimbledon Championships, the only Grand Slam tennis event still held on grass.

The AELTC recently announced updated details for The Championships 2021, including ticketing capacities, COVID-status certification, other health and safety requirements, prize money for competitors, initial wild cards, and the launch of its third consultation on the AELTC Wimbledon Park Project.
 

Pilot event

The ‘AELTC’ stated that further to discussions with Government, public health bodies and the local authority in Merton, The Championships 2021 has been approved to take place as a pilot event in the third phase of the Government Events Research Programme.

This enables AELTC to fulfill its aspiration of staging the best Championships possible within the current circumstances, with the health and safety of all those who make Wimbledon happen – guests, competitors, members, staff, officials, local residents, and partners – remaining AELTC’s highest priority.

AELTC Chairman Ian Hewitt commented, “It is with great enthusiasm and excitement that we are putting the finishing touches to our preparation for The Championships this year, and the return of the world’s best players to our grass courts, with ticket-holders in the stands. We very much look forward to staging an event that is a success for all, inspires players and fans alike and creates a spotlight for tennis, and sport, in the UK and around the world.”

AELTC Chief Executive Sally Bolton OBE commented, “We are thrilled to be able to stage The Championships in front of a minimum 50 percent capacity crowd as part of the Government Events Research Programme and extend our thanks to all those we are working closely with to make this happen from Government, the public health bodies, Merton (municipality in England), and, of course, our own teams. Our aspiration is to stage the best Championships possible, but it has always been our absolute priority to do this safely. We hope that the COVID-status certification requirements for ticket-holders, and the Minimized Risk Environment for players, their teams and officials, will provide the reassurance to those in our community, and all those who make Wimbledon happen, that we will deliver on this paramount objective.”

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden commented, “We are the first country in the world to be able to return a Grand Slam tournament to full capacity for the Men’s and Women’s final since the pandemic broke. We are able to do so because of the success of the vaccine rollout and building on what we have learnt so far from the Events Research Programme. We will be trialing COVID-status certification at The Championships in order to get as many people back as safely as possible across all the sporting and cultural events that make the Great British summer so special.”

The ‘AELTC’ further stated that ticket-holders for The Championships will be required to follow strict entry requirements and provide consent to participate in the Event Research Programme’s Science-led program.

All ticket-holders attending The Championships will be required to show proof of COVID status upon ingress, either in the form of both vaccinations (first and second dose), and with the second dose 14 days ago, or a negative lateral flow test (for those aged 11 and over).

Proof of a negative lateral flow test taken within 48 hours of attending the event can be displayed via SMS text, or via email.

Proof of vaccine can be displayed via the National Health Service (NHS) App, NHS website or by downloading and printing of a PDF through the App or website.

A non-digital letter is also available through the NHS website using the ‘Get your coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination status letter’ service or by phoning 119.

Users of the NHS App will also be able to show their natural immunity (through a positive PCR test in the last 180 days) through the NHS App.

Ticket-holders will be required to wear face coverings while moving around the Grounds. To further trial the suspension of Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (face coverings and social distancing), the use of face coverings and social distancing will not be mandatory while ticket holders are seated while at the venue.

This will enable ticket-holders to sit with any guest at any time, both in the court and in the food and drink spaces, however, the AELTC expect there still to be a form of social distancing around the Grounds, particularly in managing any queues.

In order to manage the flow of movement, the Grounds will open at the earlier time of 10 am, with play commencing on outside courts at 11 am, on No.1 Court at 1 pm and on Centre Court at 1.30 pm.

As agreed with the Government, The Championships 2021 will begin on June 28th with 50 percent capacity across the Grounds. Stadium capacities for Centre Court and No. 1 Court will open at 50 percent capacity, while the smaller Show Courts will be permitted to open at 75 percent capacity from June 28th.

For the Fourth Round and Quarter-Finals, the AELTC aim to increase Centre and No.1 Courts allocations, along with a number of Grounds Passes, and for the Semi-Finals and Finals, it aims to have 100 percent capacity on Centre Court, with a small number of tickets on No.1 Court and Grounds Passes.

An AELTC statement read, “There may be further sales to come during the Fortnight depending on the progress of our capacity modeling in partnership with Merton and the Events Research Programme team. We encourage members of the public to take note of the obligations, particularly relating to COVID-status certification, before purchasing a ticket. If you have been double vaccinated, please allow enough time to go through the steps to display this within the NHS App, as it requires some personal information from you in the form of a photo and video. All tickets will be displayed via the Official Wimbledon App (Wimbledon 2021), and must be produced, along with photo ID, on arrival at the AELTC. We will be participating in the sport-wide ‘For the love of sport campaign’ in partnership with other sports bodies to encourage ticket-holders to behave responsibly when attending The Championships. Any ticket-holder wishing to return their ticket will be eligible for a refund (which, for the purpose of Debenture ticket-holders shall be the face value of the public ticket for the applicable day) provided that they return their tickets at least 24 hours before their visit. However, if any individual develops COVID symptoms, receives a positive test result or is identified as a close contact less than 24 hours before their visit, we ask that they contact our Ticket Office.”

The statement further read, “As communicated previously, players, their support teams and officials will be part of a Minimized Risk Environment both onsite and at the official hotels, with an approved testing program in place in order for them to qualify for exemption from general public quarantine requirements and to protect the health and safety of all. The requirement for the Minimised Risk Environment is unaffected by the participation of The Championships in the Events Research Programme. We will continue to consult closely with the Government and local leaders and Directors of Public Health to consider both local and national epidemiological data in the lead-up to the event.”

The AELTC further stated that the total prize money fund for The Championships 2021 will be £35,016,000, with the Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Singles Champions each receiving £1,700,000.

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