London back to closed-door games



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London stadiums left with zero fans again Image: MJR Group Ltd./Coliseum

Professional sports in London will go back behind closed doors from December 16th as the English capital moves to Tier 3 of the country’s COVID-19 lockdown system.

The above move translates to the fact that Premier League football clubs Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham United, Crystal Palace and Fulham F.C. will not be able to allow fans at their venues for upcoming matchups.

The COVID-19 tier system in England will be reviewed on December 16th and it has already been confirmed that London will move into Tier 3, the level with the most stringent guidelines, following spike in COVID-19 cases again.

Fans returned to Premier League grounds earlier this month, with each of London’s six clubs having staged one league matches in the presence of onlookers in the ground. The latest announcement means that only four Premier League teams – Liverpool F.C., Everton FC, Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club and Southampton F.C. – are presently able to welcome spectators as they are based in Tier 2 areas, where up to 2,000 spectators are allowed.

London’s switch to Tier 3 will also impact clubs across the English Football League (EFL), with Championship teams Brentford F.C., Millwall F.C., Queens Park Rangers F.C. and Watford F.C., no longer in a position to welcome fans from Wednesday.

The tiered lockdown system permits up to 4,000 fans in Tier 1 areas but currently only Cornwall, Isle of Wight and Isles of Scilly fall into this bracket. Two thousand fans are allowed in Tier 2 areas but Tier 3 areas will continue to stage sporting fixtures behind closed doors.

On December 16th, more areas could move from Tier 3 to Tier 2, which would open up the possibility of more clubs being able to welcome fans. Coronavirus infections have come down in Greater Manchester, which is currently in Tier 3, and there have been calls from some local councilors for the area to be moved to Tier 2.

The latest announcement means that the World Darts Championship at London’s Alexandra Palace will be played without fans from December 16th. The tournament got underway on December 15th and as per initial plans it was supposed to go ahead with a limited number of fans, but from December 16th until December 23rd no spectators will be allowed.

London’s SSE Arena, Wembley welcomed 1,000 fans on the night of December 12th for the unified heavyweight championship fight between the British professional boxer Anthony Joshua and the Bulgarian professional boxer Kubrat Pulev but it remains to be seen when the venue will be able to reopen its doors again to spectators.

London moving to Tier 3 will also impact theater in the capital, with Julian Bird, Chief Executive, Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre, stating the switch to Tier 3 is “devastating news” for the industry.

A statement sent out by Bird read, “The past few days have seen venues beginning to reopen with high levels of COVID security, welcoming back enthusiastic, socially distanced audiences. Theaters across London will now be forced to postpone or cancel planned performances, causing catastrophic financial difficulties for venues, producers and thousands of industry workers – especially the freelancers who make up 70 percent of the theatre workforce. We urge Government to recognize the huge strain this has placed on the sector and look at rapid compensation to protect theaters and their staff over Christmas in all areas of the country under Tier 3 restrictions.”

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