The British Grand Prix, international cricket, The Open golf and Rugby League and Union are all in talks over securing big crowds at their showpiece events in June and July after the government announced it will stage a further 20 pilot events at ‘close to full capacity’.
The delay of Freedom Day from June 21 to July 19 will limit capacities at sports, cultural and business events to a maximum of 10,000 people, or 25 per cent of the venues’ capacity, whichever is smaller.
However, the government has said it will stage a further 20 tests, ’that will allow audience numbers to return close to full capacity’, as part of the next phase of Events Research Programme and that has triggered intensive negotiations to maximise attendance at Britain’s Great Summer of Sport.
The government and sport have been encouraged by the success of the test events that have already taken place, which saw no positive cases recorded at outdoor sporting events in April and May. Overall, only 15 positive covid tests were returned from the 58,000 who took part at indoor and outdoor trials.
The new round of tests is designed to push capacities higher where possible and further trial covid certification, which is seen by many as crucial in returning capacity crowds this summer and at football matches when the Premier League and EFL seasons restart in August.
As part of the test events, ministers have already committed to 40,000 fans at the last four Euro 2020 knock out matches at Wembley, which include one round-of-16 games, the semi-finals and final.
Lewis Hamilton hails the crowds at the 2019 British Formula One Grand Prix in 2019
Silverstone is well placed to welcome large crowds again this year given its wide open spaces
And Wimbledon will be allowed to operate half full initially, with the singles’ finals being the first major outdoor event given permission to take place in front of a full crowd since the coronavirus crisis began
More events and capacities are expected to be confirmed this week, with the British Formula One Grand Prix in pole position for a full house, or at least close to it.
Government plans to use covid certification to ensure the safe return of supporters despite other lockdown measures remaining in place and limiting activities in other walks of life.
However, the attendances will vary depending on the locations. While government is relatively confident about limiting the spread within open air venues, travel to and from stadia is seen as riskier for very large crowds.
June 21 was the earliest date social distancing would end, but Freedom Day has been delayed
Wimbledon will welcome a full house for the singles’ finals and open with half capacity
‘Once you are in the stadium, you are pretty safe, you are in an outdoor environment,’ said a source close to the talks on fans’ return. ‘The problem is the travel.’
Football: Euro 2020 Group D matches. England’s first three games in Euro 2020 have been designated pilot events testing covid certification. As a result, 22,500 fans will be allowed to attend the matches against Craotia (June 13), Scotland (June 18) and Czech Republic (June 22).
Cricket: T20 vs Sri Lanka June 23, 24 & 26. The first two games at Sophia Gardens still have good availability, but the game on the 26th at the Ageas Bowl, Southampton, is sold out. Cricket is seeking test event status for some games.
Rugby Union: Gallagher Premiership final, Twickenham, June 26. Initial allocation of 20,000 has sold out, but event would have to granted test status to admit more than 10,000.
Football: Euro 2020 R16. Wembley hosts a two matches in the round of 16 at Euro 2020 on June 26 and 29,. The government has already committed to 22,500 fans on the 26th and latter will host 40,000 spectators as a test event.
Tennis: Wimbledon, June 28. Allowed to operate half full initially, with the singles’ finals played in front of a full crowd.
Cricket: ODIs vs Sri Lanka, June 29, July 1&4. For the match at the Emirates Riverside, Durham there is limited availability; the Kia Oval is sold out.
Football: Euro 2020 semi finals. For the semi finals on July 6 and 7, the capacity will be 45,000.
Cricket: ODIs vs Pakistan, July 8, 10, & 13. There is limited availability at Sophia Gardens on July 8 and the subsequent games at Lords and Edgbaston are sold out.
Football: Euro 2020 final July 11. The FA has committed to UEFA that the stadium will be at least one quarter full for Euro 2020 matches at Wembley, but there is an aspiration to increase capacity to 45,000 for the final.
Golf: The Open at Royal St George’s starting Jul 15. Event is hoping to achieve 75 per cent capacity – 30,000 people each day – but will require test event status.
Rugby League: Betfred Challenge Cup Final at Wembley on July 17. Rugby League is hoping the event will be granted test event status and have the same capacity as Euro 2020 matches – 40,000.
Rugby Union: England internationals, July 4 & 10. England take on the USA and then Canada. The sport is seeking test event status to raise capacity above 10,000.
Cricket: T20 vs Pakistan, July 16, 18 and 20. The first two games at Trent Bridge and Headingley are sold out, but would require test event status to go ahead above 10,000 fans. The third game, at Emirates Old Trafford, comes after the proposed end of lockdown on July 19.
The British Grand Prix at Silverstone on July 18 stands the best chance of the biggest attendance because it does not rely on public transport. Almost all fans make their own way to the Northamptonshire circuit by car, which is located off the A43 dual carriageway between the M1 and M40.
In addition, while the regular capacity includes 70,000 fans in seated grandstands and a further 50,000 standing, they are spread out over almost five miles.
‘We’d like to reassure you that we remain confident fans will be back at Silverstone for the 2021 Formula 1 British Grand Prix in July,’ the Northamptonshire circuit informed fans in a tweet.
‘Our ongoing discussions with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, as well as Public Health England, are positive.’
However, there will only be a limited number of test events to go around. The next phase of the Events Research Programme does not only include sport, but cultural events, too.
England Cricket is also working hard with officials to secure significant capacities for the forthcoming Twenty20 and ODI series against Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
The second test at Edgbaston saw up to 18,000 fans – 70 per cent of the capacity – attend the second test against New Zealand each day.
While England performed miserably out in the middle, the joyful scenes in the stands were reminiscent of summers past, before the coronavirus took hold in March last year.
Provided protection measures proved to be effective, the trial will raise hopes that other matches will take place with bumper attendances.
At Edgbaston, all fans had to demonstrate a negative covid test and the event was carefully planned with walking routes promoted from the city centre and an app in use for ordering food and drink. The app also displayed heat maps of the stadium so supporters could avoid crowds.
This time, in addition to lateral flow tests, spectators will also have the option of using the NHS app to show they have had two covid vaccinations, or that they have natural immunity, resulting from a past infection.
The clubs due to host England games in the month ahead have been told the ECB are in talks with government, but have been given no information on the venues that will be selected.
Understandably, given they face another summer of disruption with attendances likely to be drastically reduced at their domestic games, at least until after July 19, the clubs are desperate for good news.
‘Anything that allows us to get more than 25 percent capacity is going to be very welcome,’ one official told Sportsmail.
In a statement the ECB said: ‘We are continuing to work closely with the government as it identifies its next pilot events and hope to be able to provide an update on capacities shortly.’
England are due to play Sri Lanka and Pakistan in a series of Twenty20 and ODI matches between June 23 and July 20, with many of the games already sold out. The first match post lockdown is set to be the Twenty20 fixture against Pakistan at the Emirates Old Trafford on July 20.
The Open golf at Royal St George’s in Sandwich, Kent, is hoping to secure an attendance of around 75 per cent – or 30,000 people each day, when its event begins on July 15.
England were poor in the second test, but Edgbaston welcomed back 18,000 supporters
Fans were required to show thy were covid free by presenting a negative test at the ground
Government scientists will analyse post-match tests to determine if covid was transmitted
To achieve any attendance over 10,000 people would require the tournament to be included in the research programme, which is under discussion.
However, The Open has a similar advantage to the Grand Prix in the race for fans, given spectators are spread around a four-mile course. Many fans travel by car and the course provides a dedicated walking route from Sandwich station, which will strengthen its case.
‘We are in active discussions with the UK Government and public health authorities regarding capacity levels for the Championship and hope to provide a definitive update for all ticket holders and hospitality guests in the next few days,’ said a spokesman for Royal St George’s.
Meanwhile, the Rugby League Betfred Challenge Cup Final, which takes place at Wembley on July 17, will hope that their showpiece will at least be given parity with the Euro 2020 matches at Wembley that are set to host 40,000 fans.
Rugby League is hoping the Betfred Challenge Cup Final will be played in front of 40,000 fans
Fans played a part in Wembley covid tests for the FA Cup semi and final and Carabao Cup final
Given the preparations for the European Championships, Wembley is the most tested venue in the country, having hosted fans in increasing numbers for the FA Cup semi final between Leicester and Southampton, the FA Cup final when the Foxes beat Chelsea, the Carabao Cup final in which Manchester City beat Tottenham 1-0 and England’s victorious Euro 2020 opener against Croatia, which was attended by 22,500 fans.
There has been a reluctance from public health officials to go above the 40,000 mark at Wembley because of the pressure that places on public transport in the area and the congested walk-up to the stadium.
And Rugby Union is also in the mix. The sport has the Gallagher Premiership final at Twickenham on June 26, which has sold out an initial allocation of 20,000 tickets. To go ahead at that capacity the event would have to be made part of the Events Research Programme.
In addition, there are two summer internationals at Twickenham, against the USA on July 4 and Canada on July 10. The Rugby Football Union had been working towards a capacity of 10,000 at the 82,000-seat stadium, but is now also in talks with officials over raising that figure.
England’s Summer of Sport
Key events after 21 June – the earliest date all restrictions can be lifted:
11 June-11 July: Football – Euro 2020 in various countries, including seven matches at Wembley
28 June-11 July: Tennis – Wimbledon
23, 24 & 26 June: Cricket – England v Sri Lanka T20s
29 June, 1 & 4 July: Cricket – England v Sri Lanka ODIs
8, 10 & 13 July: Cricket – England v Pakistan ODIs
13 July: Athletics – Diamond League: Anniversary Games at London Stadium
15-18 July: Golf – The Open at Royal St George’s
16, 18 & 20 July: Cricket – England v Pakistan T20s
17 July: Rugby League – Betfred Challenge Cup final at Wembley
18 July: Formula 1 – British Grand Prix at Silverstone
4 Aug-14 Sept: Cricket – England v India five Test series
6 August: Football – EFL season commences
14 August: Football – Premier League season commences
19 August: Cricket – Royal London Cup final
21 August: Cricket – The Hundred women’s and men’s finals
18 September: Cricket – Vitality T20 Blast semi-finals and final
28 Sept-1 Oct: Cricket – Bob Willis Trophy final at Lord’s
3 October: Athletics – London Marathon
9 October: Rugby League – Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford