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Boris Johnson says spectators will not be allowed to attend sports pilot events

Boris Johnson says spectators will not be allowed to attend sports pilot events
© Reuters
Three sports had been set for a return of fans.

Further pilot sport events with spectators in attendance will now not take place in the first two weeks of August, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said.

The two-day cricket clash between Surrey and Middlesex, which started last Sunday, had signalled the return of fans to some sporting events, and two more county friendlies also saw spectators through the gates.

However, it appears that for the time being that will be as far as it goes in a tightening of restrictions to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Fans had returned to the Oval
Fans had returned to the Oval (Adam Davy/PA)

The World Snooker Championship started on Friday with fans in attendance, with further spectators due for the rest of the 17-day event. Some 5,000 racegoers had been due to attend the Glorious Goodwood Festival on Saturday.

“Pilots of crowds at sports events will now not take place,” the Prime Minister said.

It is understood Premier League clubs had been hoping to admit supporters at pre-season friendlies next month on a socially-distanced basis.

It comes after it was announced that people from different households in Greater Manchester, parts of east Lancashire and West Yorkshire would be banned from meeting each other inside their homes or in gardens following a spike in virus cases.

Two matches in cricket’s Bob Willis Trophy starting on Saturday had been due to welcome spectators this weekend – Surrey v Middlesex at the Oval and Warwickshire v Northamptonshire at Edgbaston.

The England and Wales Cricket Board said in a statement: “We understand this is disappointing for supporters who have waited a long time to see their clubs in action and were looking forward to attending pilot events at the Kia Oval and Edgbaston this weekend.

“However, we understand the reasons the Government has made this decision, and remain ready to work with them to ensure supporters can safely return to stadiums when Government advice allows.

“We are pleased the Bob Willis Trophy will still begin this weekend behind closed doors, and fans will be able to watch their teams in action through the online streams being provided.”

In response to the cancellation of the planned return of spectators to Goodwood, a joint statement from Goodwood racecourse, the British Horseracing Authority and the Racecourse Association said: “The government has informed racing’s leaders in the past hour that it has withdrawn permission for a pilot event involving customers to proceed at Goodwood tomorrow.

“The racing on Saturday will continue behind closed doors as it has on the earlier days of the Festival.

“The Prime Minister is setting out the rationale for the government’s decision but we understand that concern about the national infection rate is the primary reason, and as a result all pilots of larger crowds in sporting venues will be postponed until at least August 15.”

Adam Waterworth, the managing director of sport at the Goodwood Estate, said: “We have been led by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport throughout and whilst we are disappointed by the news, the health and safety of attendees, customers and staff is of paramount importance.”

David Armstrong, chief executive of the RCA, said: “The RCA is very disappointed to learn that the pilot event at Goodwood Racecourse scheduled for tomorrow has been postponed.

“We understand and respect the issues raised within the Prime Minister’s announcement and have always maintained that public health has been paramount to any event, be it racing resuming behind closed doors or with crowds.”

Spectators were already at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre for day one of the World Snooker Championship when the announcement regarding crowds was made by the Prime Minister.

World Snooker said it would issue an update shortly.

Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, tweeted about the developments.

“Very disappointing news that with rise in infection rates we cannot press ahead with sports pilots with fans this weekend I know the huge efforts cricket, snooker & horseracing have made to welcome fans back,” he wrote.

“We’ll keep working together on their safe return asap.”

Mass gatherings have been banned since March following the onset of the pandemic in the United Kingdom.

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