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Barry Hearn "gutted" as Boris Johnson calls off supporter return trials

Barry Hearn
© Reuters
Boris Johnson's latest coronavirus edict meant fans could no longer attend the World Championship or county cricket matches.

Snooker will revert to “Plan B” of playing the World Championships without fans after Prime Minister Boris Johnson called off the return of spectators on a pilot basis.

The tournament, which started today in Sheffield, had fans present, while a handful of county cricket friendlies had already played host to crowds, with more planned for the coming days.

The same scenario was ahead for racing, with 5,000 expected at Glorious Goodwood on Saturday, but the attendances will now read zero as the Prime Minister changed the plans in accordance with coronavirus fears.

“It leaves us on Plan B, we are going to be resilient, we’ll get through as we always will and Plan B is to revert to, from tomorrow, behind closed doors,” WST chairman Barry Hearn told the BBC, not long after fans had watched Judd Trump kick off his title defence at the Crucible.

“There is a chance, I’m ever the optimist, a return for the final, in the meantime, I’m gutted, of course. The work the team has done… an amazing job getting this ready and they must feel terribly deflated. From day one we followed every single safety guideline, we have a new guideline and we follow that as well.”

Hearn said those present on Friday – fans can remain for the final two sessions – had the “ultimate golden ticket” but added “there is no point dwelling”.

Speaking earlier in the day, the Prime Minister said: “Pilots of crowds at sports events will now not take place.”

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.

Boris Johnson spoke on Friday
Boris Johnson spoke on Friday (PA)

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.”

Surrey vice-captain Rikki Clarke admitted everyone at the club was bitterly disappointed to find out the Kia Oval would not host spectators for days one and two of Saturday’s Bob Willis Trophy fixture with Middlesex.

“It is bitterly disappointing,” Clarke said. “Obviously having the pilot session during the friendly against Middlesex the other day, it was nice to get back in front of a crowd.

“Then the opportunity for the next couple of days with 2,500 people coming in was very exciting. It is devastating news but the health and safety of the public is more important.

“I suppose it is a little bit disappointing for all the hard work that has gone into getting that ready and up and running.”

England played the West Indies in two Tests at the Emirates Old Trafford in July without any spectators in attendance and will host Pakistan at the ground on August 5
England played the West Indies in two Tests at the Emirates Old Trafford in July without any spectators in attendance and will host Pakistan at the ground on August 5 (Martin Rickett/PA)

The ECB expects next week’s first Test between England and Pakistan at Old Trafford to be unaffected by the latest restrictions around the Greater Manchester area.

The Government has banned separate households from meeting indoors, and while the ECB will keep everything under review, existing protocols will allow the game to go ahead.

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 while 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.”

Fans had returned to the cricket last weekend
Fans had returned to the cricket last weekend (Adam Davy/PA)

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,” he wrote.

“I know the huge efforts cricket, snooker and horseracing have made to welcome fans back. 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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