Sports fans have received the news they have waited months for – stadiums will re-open from December 2 when the current Covid-19 lockdown in England is eased.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that the country will return to the tier system of coronavirus restrictions early next month and sports venues in tiers one and two will be permitted to admit a limited number of spectators.
But how will everything work and how many people will we actually see inside stadiums next month? Sportsmail answers your questions.
Sports stadiums can open their doors again and admit a limited number of spectators once the national lockdown is lifted on December 2 and assuming they are in tier one or tier two
HOW FANS WILL RETURN IN DIFFERENT AREAS
4,000 spectators/ 50% capacity for outdoor events, whichever is lower, and 2,000/ 50% capacity for indoor
2,000 spectators/50% capacity outdoors, whichever is lower, and 1,000/ 50% indoors
Ban on spectators remains
What is the news?
The government is announcing that fans will be allowed to return to watch outdoor sport in England once the national lockdown is lifted on December 2.
Supporters have been banned from watching most elite sport at stadiums and events since the coronavirus pandemic gripped Britain in March.
The ban has hit sports hard financially, with clubs still incurring costs, but suffering from much reduced income.
Now, the government says a maximum of 4,000 fans are set to be allowed at outdoor events in the lowest-risk areas when the national lockdown ends.
Up to 2,000 fans will be allowed in tier two areas but zero in tier three.
The measures are set to be part of the new Covid-19 restrictions in England. Elite sport has continued behind closed doors during England’s four-week lockdown, but grassroots and amateur sport has been halted since 5 November.
When will it be announced?
The announcement will actually be spread over a couple of days.
On Monday, Boris Johnson was set to tell the House of Commons that fans will be allowed to return to elite sport, but it is dependent upon the level of infection in the area where the stadium or event is located.
Sport taking place in Tier 1 areas will be allowed to admit up to 4,000 spectators, those in Tier 2 will be allowed 2,000 and in Tier 3 no fans will be allowed.
The infection rates in parts of Britain remain stubbornly high and we will not find out which tier different areas will be in until Thursday November 26.
Only then will we find out which sports events will be open to supporters.
Who are likely to be in Tiers 1 and 2 and have fans back?
There will be discrepancies between different parts of England as to where spectators can return to sporting events and it will all depend on which tier they are placed into post-lockdown.
The full breakdown of which parts of the country are going into which tier will be announced on Thursday ahead of the end of lockdown next week and will be reviewed on a fortnightly basis.
It depends entirely on the weekly infection rate and, as such, will remain a fluid situation.
As it stands, sporting venues in London, the south and East Anglia are most likely to be in Tier 1 or Tier 2 and see stadiums re-open to fans.
The Midlands, north-west and north-east appear to be the most likely to be placed into tier three restrictions, meaning stadiums will remain closed.
So it could well be that London-based Premier League clubs such as Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham can begin to allow a few thousands fans back but the likes of Manchester United, Leicester City and Newcastle cannot quite yet.
However, it is impossible to say with any certainty before the tiers are announced on Thursday.
What are the rules for fans entering stadiums?
A lot of work has been done to test approaches to the safe return of fans and this, combined with the findings of the government’s Sports Technology and Innovation Working Group, will be used to inform best practice.
National guidance is set out by the Sports Ground Safety Authority, which is used to inform local Safety Advisory Groups, made up of local authorities and the emergency services, in order to plan for events.
Sports venues work with their safety advisory groups in order to be certified safe to host events and it is this level conditions are agreed.
Nine test events were held in the EFL in the summer and one in the Premier League, a preseason friendly between Brighton and Chelsea, which was staged at the Amex Stadium in front of 2,500 supporters.
Fans attend the pre-season friendly between Brighton and Chelsea – a test event in August
It was a great success and many of the rules in place that day have been adopted in national guidance.
The rules included:
- Distancing on the approach to the stadium to avoid crowds, as well as on concourses inside
- Masks to be worn everywhere except when seated, however that is expected to change and masks will probably have to be worn before, during and after a match
- Fans will have to carry photo-identification so the club knows they are the person who bought the ticket and they can be contacted in the event of a coronavirus outbreak
- Supporters will have to sanitise their hands on the way in and out of grounds
- Each fan sits alone, although some test events allowed a ‘family bubble’, with seats either side vacant and one row left empty between supporters, which allows stewards to manage the game more easily
Unique branding was produced by Brighton in mint green for Covid-related information. This was used to communicate with fans before the game and at the match, so they knew what to expect and what to do.
Fans at the Amex were asked to give way to supporters climbing the stairs to their seat (because they would be exhaling more heavily) and turn away from others when passing them.
In addition, the Government’s Sports Technology and Innovation Working Group is looking at other initiatives, such as the possibility of mass testing of supporters so only those who test negative attend the match.
Other clubs anticipate they will stagger arrival times, possibly over a two-hour period, to reduce congestion.
FIRST MAJOR EVENTS THAT COULD ALLOW FANS
Manchester United v PSG, Old Trafford – Champions League
Haydock Park, Lingfield Park, Ludlow – afternoon
Kempton Park – evening
Arsenal v Rapid Vienna, Emirates stadium – Europa League
Bristol v Northampton Saints, Ashton Gate – Premiership
(Admission of fans will depend on which tier the host ground is in)
What are the first events after the easing of the rules where we will see fans?
The sporting calendar has continued apace even during this latest lockdown and there are certainly plenty of events in many sports throughout December.
If organisers are able to move quickly enough, and their venues are in the correct tier, we could even see fans admitted to events on December 2, when lockdown lifts.
Manchester United host Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League at Old Trafford that evening, while there are Championship fixtures scheduled at Blackburn Rovers, Luton Town, Middlesbrough, Nottingham Forest, Sheffield Wednesday and Wycombe.
There are also afternoon race meets at Haydock Park, Lingfield Park and Ludlow, plus an evening meet at Kempton Park.
The following day – December 3 – sees the Europa League game between Arsenal and Rapid Vienna at the Emirates Stadium, while Friday December 4 sees the Championship match between Barnsley and Bournemouth at Oakwell.
The EFL are also considering bumping their midweek games from December 1 to December 2 in order to let fans into games as soon as possible.
Also that night is the Premiership Rugby fixture between Bristol and Northampton Saints at Ashton Gate.
So in theory, all of these events could have some spectators, but as mentioned it will depend not only on the tier restrictions for each area but how quickly clubs and organisers can mobilise logistically to allocate and distribute tickets and put in arrangements for social distancing.
As it stands, clubs have not yet been contacted by Government about the plans to return fans to stadiums.
Haydock Park Horse racing on December 2 could be the first sporting event with spectators
Bristol Bears’ clash with Northampton at Ashton Gate could be the first Premiership fixture
What sports are the biggest winners from this?
No sport will turn down the opportunity to make some much-needed money from ticket sales and other matchday revenue at the moment.
Cash-strapped clubs in the lower reaches of the EFL and in non-league football will breathe a sigh of relief at the news.
We have already seen Macclesfield Town, relegated from League Two last season, forced into liquidation over debts totalling £500,000 and it was feared more clubs in the EFL and below could fold.
It is understood that at least 10 EFL clubs will need an emergency loan to pay their staff this month and another 10 thought to be approaching financial ruin in December.
So for them, the opportunity to get a few thousand back inside their stadiums will be a lifeline.
However some clubs may feel somewhat peeved if they are placed in a higher tier while other rivals can welcome fans back in, with the extra financial and morale boost that will bring.
Macclesfield Town, who played at Moss Rose, were liquidated earlier this year in the courts
How will fans travel to the stadiums?
The new tier system does come with guidance on how to travel.
If you’re in tier one, the advice is to walk or cycle if possible and to avoid travel into tier three areas unless it’s necessary for work, education, medical appointments, youth services or caring responsibilities.
In tier two, you’re advised to reduce the number of journeys made where possible and not travel into tier three areas unless necessary.
And in tier three, you should avoid travelling outside the area unless it’s for those reasons outlined.
There are guidelines for each of the three tiers over transport and travel and for what reasons
It seems certain that clubs will advise fans to travel to their games on foot, by bicycle or in cars and avoid crowded public transport, but that won’t be an option for everyone.
The restrictions may prevent fans who live in tier three areas travelling to a stadium that is in tier one or two, however. But this is by no means definitive by the wording of the new rules.
It also seems highly likely that away fans will be discouraged for the foreseeable.
Will fans be able to sing?
It was reported in August that football fans may not be allowed to sing as part of a ‘code of conduct’ that they would have to adhere to in order to return to stadiums.
However it seems highly unlikely that any such rule would be in place for this return. The distancing between fans should be enough of a precaution.
Before the latest wave, when German football fans were allowed in stadiums, there was plenty of signing. Indeed, before Union Berlin’s game against Augsburg in September, the home stadium announcer bellowed: ‘You’ll all have to sing for at least four people today!’ to make up for the lack of overall numbers. So clearly not much guidance was given there in terms of signing.
So there is no reason to think it would be any different on these shores. Distanced crowds, hand sanitisers, staggered entrances and exits, yes, but a ban on signing, probably not.
Socially distanced fans of German club Union Berlin at a Bundesliga fixture in October
Will alcohol be allowed?
Now this is a big one. Nationwide in Tier 1, pubs and bars can serve alcohol until 11pm, while in Tier 2, pubs can only serve drinks with ‘substantial’ meals.
Largely speaking, the introduction of the new rules for the tiers has been viewed as a disaster for drinking establishments.
For stadiums in Tier 2, fans being served alcohol is unlikely. Official government guidelines say that, for Tier 2, ‘venues that serve alcohol can only remain open where they operate as if they were a restaurant’.
Hospitality areas may be allowed to use this workaround but fans grabbing a pint at half time is very unlikely.
So will football grounds follow suit and allow drinks in Tier 1 stadiums at the very least? Well, it’s a murky issue.
Clarification over whether spectators can drink alcohol is needed in the weeks to come
Fans are being allowed back in to bring the game into line with theaters and other arts, which was a particular gripe for those inside the game.
It is not yet clear what Tier 1 will allow to happen for theatres given the rules are different to before, but if they are allowed to open the bar, then it is likely football stadiums will, too.
It’s worth noting that laws, introduced in 1985 to ban fans from drinking in view of the pitch, are being reviewed in light of the pandemic.
In the long-term, these could be lifted and fans may be allowed to watch games with a pint in order to avoid congregation on concourses. Could this mean a form of ‘table service’ at grounds before long? Perhaps, but certainly not yet.
Who will get tickets?
This remains unknown. Football clubs in particular were certainly caught out by the announcement today so there is a good chance they won’t have a plan in place to decide who will get one of the few thousand golden tickets.
All that we do know is that it is likely to cause controversy either way. Will teams seize the opportunity to claw back cash by only allowing the highest paying spectators, the hospitality set, back in first and risk public outcry? Or will they run a lottery system among season ticket holders? Or something completely different?
Speaking over the weekend, Eddie Hearn insisted his plan to get fans back in for Anthony Joshua’s fight against Kubrat Pulev did not involve selling the highest-priced seats only.
Other sports, such as the NFL in America, have already allowed limited fans back and have given their ticket allocation to season ticket holders on a first come-first served basis.
Some fans may not feel comfortable enough to want to return to stadiums in the first place so may forgo their chance at watching games again, which opens a whole different can of worms.
A fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers during their NFL match with Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday
Won’t be it be unfair that some fans are allowed back in for big games, like derbies, having already played each other with no fans?
Some clubs immediately raised concern over the prospect of fans returning to competitive sport.
While clubs in elite sport are desperate for revenue, allowing some to have supporters and not others raises awkward questions for the integrity of competition.
Firstly, those clubs allowed supporters may be at an advantage over those that are not simply because they have fans cheering them on.
However, clubs have also warned that the revenue generated might also create unfair competition.
‘We are in the middle of a competition and then suddenly a group of clubs will have an advantage over another,’ one Championship club source told Sportsmail.
‘Suddenly one group of clubs will have extra revenue while others will not. The impact ahead of the transfer window could be huge.
‘The Championship is a £150million game and if you have a club in tier three and another in tier one that is going to mean the tier three club will struggle for revenues going into January and if they are competing for two or three players it could make a big difference. That will have to be looked at.’