Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Tuesday that the planned return of spectators to sports venues in England could be on hold for six months due to a sharp rise in coronavirus cases.
A number of pilot test events, in which capacities have been capped at 1,000, have taken place and it was hoped venues would be allowed to welcome more spectators from the start of October.
Sports to continue behind closed doors
But Johnson set out a range of tough new restrictions for England designed to limit the spread of COVID-19.
“We have to acknowledge that the spread of the virus is now affecting our ability to reopen business conferences, exhibitions and large sporting events,” he told the House of Commons. “So we will not be able to do this from October 1 and I recognise the implications for our sports clubs which are the life and soul of our communities, and… the Chancellor and the Culture Secretary are working urgently on what we can do now to support them.”
He said the measures being announced on Tuesday would remain in place for “perhaps six months”.
It is a devastating blow to sporting organisations, many of whom rely heavily on match-day revenue for survival, and there have already been calls from governing bodies for the government to provide emergency funding.
Professional sport, including the Premier League and Test cricket, has largely been played behind closed doors since it returned following the coronavirus shutdown earlier this year.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport confirmed all pilot events scheduled for September had now been cancelled. They will now take place with no fans.
The English Football League has estimated its clubs will lose a collective £200 million ($255 million) without fans in stadiums for the whole of the 2020/21 season.
The Premier League warned of the “devastating impact” the continued absence of supporters was beginning to have on its clubs and communities.
“Football is not the same without attending fans and the football economy is unsustainable without them,” the league said in a statement.
“Last season, Premier League clubs suffered £700 million in losses and at present, our national game is losing more than £100 million per month. This is starting to have a devastating impact on clubs and their communities.
“We are confident that Premier League clubs, using innovative ways to get supporters safely back into grounds, will enable revenues to return to all levels of the game, as well as maintain solidarity arrangements, current tax contributions and financial support for local and national economies.”
The Football Supporters’ Association said it was “crucial” to the survival of clubs to get spectators back into grounds as soon as it was safe to do so.
Bristol Bears boss Pat Lam said a ban on fans for up to six months would have a “huge impact” on rugby clubs in the English Premiership
The Jockey Club called for direct government support.
“Without paying spectators, the largest revenue streams for many sports have been cut off for six months to date,” said group chief executive Nevin Truesdale.
“And, with no prospect of a change soon, this threatens the survival of sports organisations and the many livelihoods they support.”
© Agence France-Presse