UK clubs promise fans total safety in venues


UK to push for fan return October 2020 Image: Premier League

The Premier League, English Football League (EFL), the Football Association (FA), Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship has assured all fans in UK that together they are fully committed for the safe return of fans to the football ground at the earliest possible.

A statement on the sporting clubs’ website stated that taking into view the cataclysmic pandemic, “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. 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.”

The statement added, “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 programs 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.”

Pilot success

The sporting clubs further stated in their statement that the 11 successful pilots of the EFL, Premier League, Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship recently, it has been proved that the League 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.”

They asserted that they would continue to urge the Government to allow 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,” the statement added.

Reducing risk of transmission

The sporting bodies believe that stadium environments can be modified and carefully managed. Measures could include screening spectators before they enter the ground, temperature checks, mandatory wearing of masks, one-way systems and providing a code of conduct for all those attending on a match day. This will all be bolstered by deep-cleaning practices to help further reduce the risk of virus transmission.

Clubs want to be proactive on this matter and are willing to consider 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 fans can travel by private car or bicycle.

The clubs stated that they are firm on identifying a path forward with the Government – “We need clarity for our clubs and for you (read fans) as supporters as to what the roadmap for change in this area looks like.”

The clubs further pointed out that caution should be exercised in view of the grave COVID-19 situation and requested the Government for consistency in their policy so that sport is treated as fairly as other activities presently allowed to welcome spectators.

“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 program. If we do so, then the benefits will be felt not just by fans but throughout society and the economy,” the statement concluded.

Working group

A working group has been formed by the UK Government recently that will examine futuristic solutions to facilitate the entry of more fans into stadia.

Going by the name of Sport Tech Innovation the group will include sport, health and tech aficionados as well as the Premier League, England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and other sporting bodies.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said the group, which will work in tandem with England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jonathan Van Tam, has been formed to explore high-tech solutions that can facilitate fans getting back into venues by the horde.

“That kind of tech could include tracking devices to measure social distancing between fans, and fluorescent disinfectants to reveal how often surfaces are touched. Or innovative tech to assist in safe travel, and reduce crowding as fans make their way to venues,” Dowden said.

“This isn’t just about sport. We desperately need people back in our theaters, in our cinemas, in our music venues. This group will feed into this crucial work too,” Dowden added.

The Premier League welcomed the formation of the group as it targets a return of fans to stadia across England at the start of October.

Premier League Chief Executive Richard Masters remarked, “The Premier League is very pleased to be involved in the Sport Tech Innovation Group announced by the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden. We know, through the success of delivering Project Restart last season that Premier League clubs can provide safe environments and we are looking forward to welcoming back supporters to all our grounds as quickly as possible.”

The best case in point is that some 2,500 Brighton (English professional football club) fans attended the club’s home friendly against Chelsea at the Amex Stadium recently under tight restrictions imposed by the Government and football authorities as part of its pilot scheme to safely return supporters to venues.

The supporters, from the club’s loyalty program, stuck to Government guidelines, such as maintaining socially distanced seating, undergoing temperature checks and wearing masks when going into or around the stadium.

The event was deemed a success by Masters, who added, “Brighton & Hove Albion did a fantastic job at their test event for the return of supporters and it was great to see fans in a Premier League stadium for the first time since March. The success of having 2,500 supporters in the Amex was very encouraging and we are committed to having full stadia as soon as possible, with safety always our priority. We are working hard alongside our clubs, the Government and the safety authorities to achieve this.”

Brighton Chief Executive Paul Barber added, “We are delighted – it went as well as it possibly could have. Credit to our fans – they followed the guidelines, listened to requests from our stewards and, even at the end, when they stayed on to listen to the managers’ pitchside interviews on our stadium screens, they remained in their seats and observed social distancing.”

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