Crowds of up to 4,000 and grassroots sport to return after English lockdown

This article is more than 3 months old
  • Limited crowds allowed in Tiers 1 and 2 from next week
  • Gyms, pools and leisure centres can open in all tiers
A limited number of spectators watch Norwich’s game against Preston in September.
A limited number of spectators watch Norwich’s game against Preston in September, before the second lockdown came into effect. Photograph: Stephen Pond/Getty Images
A limited number of spectators watch Norwich’s game against Preston in September, before the second lockdown came into effect. Photograph: Stephen Pond/Getty Images

Last modified on Mon 23 Nov 2020 23.36 EST

Crowds of up to 4,000 people will be allowed to return to sporting events in England from next week, and grassroots sport will also resume as part of an easing of coronavirus restrictions announced by the prime minister. The changes were greeted with widespread relief after weeks of concerted pressure from sporting bodies and the public, who had both argued the importance of being able to participate in sport during the pandemic and also of the ability to watch it safely.

England is to return to a system of tiered restrictions from 2 December but gyms, pools, golf courses and leisure facilities will now be allowed to open in all tiers after the government accepted their positive impact on physical and mental health

Crucial decisions on which locations will enter into which tier are not expected before Thursday. This means continuing uncertainty hangs over much of elite sport. Under the new rules, clubs or venues in tier 3 would not be able to admit any fans at all. Even at their most relaxed, measures will stop some way short of stemming the financial losses sustained since the original suspension in March.

Once the changes are implemented, 4,000 spectators would be allowed into outdoors events in tier 1 areas, or 50% of capacity depending on which is smaller. And 1,000 people would also be allowed to attend indoor events. In tier 2 that number will be capped at 2,000 and 1,000 indoors.

The R rate in most of England remains above 1 despite the national lockdown restrictions, and the prime minister warned that significant parts of the country are likely to fall into tier 3. “We expect more regions will fall at least temporarily into higher tiers than before,” he said.

Quick Guide

Explainer: how new rules will affect sport

Show

How many fans can attend outdoor events?

The government has said a maximum of 4,000 fans (or 50% of capacity, if lower) will initially be allowed in outdoor stadiums in Tier 1 areas where Covid transmission is low. In Tier 2 regions, a maximum of 2,000 fans will be allowed to attend, but elite sport in Tier 3 locations with the highest transmission rates will continue behind closed doors.

How are indoor sports affected?

Indoor sporting events in Tier 1 and 2 locations will be able to host a maximum of 1,000 fans, or 50% of capacity. Snooker and darts could be among the early beneficiaries, although venues in Tier 3 areas will remain closed to fans.

Can I play sport again?

Outdoor sports, such as golf and tennis, can resume from 2 December with gyms and leisure centres also able to reopen across all tiers. Organised grassroots sport is also allowed to resume with social distancing in place, and there will be some restrictions on activity in Tier 3 locations. In Tier 1,  indoor sports can take place within the rule of six - so in theory, six people from six different households could play together. PA

Was this helpful?

The chief executive of Sport England, Tim Hollingsworth, said that having the opportunity to play sport during the pandemic was “more important than ever” as the country heads into winter.

“From the prime minister down, there is now a strong recognition of the vital benefits of playing sport and being active, not just for your physical wellbeing, but also crucially as a support for your mental health,” he said.

Nick Rust, the chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority, said the announcement was “more good news” following the extension of emergency loan funding to 11 sports by the government last week.

“Our many millions of fans … have been unable to watch in person the sport they love since March,” he said. “We know the numbers are limited to begin with and not all venues will be allowed to admit spectators, but this is progress.”

Football players set up goalposts in the park.
Grassroots sport will be allowed to resume from 2 December. Photograph: Andrew Couldridge/Action Images via Reuters

The EFL also expressed its pleasure at the news. Lower league football clubs have been at the heart of a crisis over funding since the spring, one the government has said must be worked out by the sport itself. But even the return of small numbers of fans could have an impact on some clubs in League One and Two. With a full set of fixtures currently split either side of the 2 December change, the EFL is considering moving some matches back dependent on the government’s tiering decisions.

“Whilst today’s news is subject to regional restrictions, it is an important step in achieving a return to normal, alongside it being crucial to addressing the significant revenue gap left by a lack of spectators and other revenue streams as a result of the pandemic,” a spokesperson said.

Commenting on the new guidelines the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, said the government was “taking a cautious approach” to the return of crowds. “I’m confident that sports will take every step to ensure their fans are safe, and fans will play their part and look out for each other until we can safely get everyone back in,” he said.

The prime minister said that the inconsistency which had allowed people to watch a film at the cinema but not a rugby match in a stadium, a frequent point of complaint for campaigners, had played into the change in approach.

One of the more vocal campaigners for the return of grassroots sport was the football pundit Robbie Savage. Writing on Twitter after the news was announced, he said: “We did it, thank you to everyone who pushed for the return of grassroots sports!”

The Labour party welcomed the return of grassroots activity but called for more details. “After a year of stopping and starting, gyms, leisure centres and local clubs need to be able to plan,” a spokesperson said. “The government must now set out the details for our daily lives and play its part in making sure everyone can enjoy the physical and mental health benefits of sport.”