An open letter to fans from the Premier League, EFL, The FA, Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship has underlined a collective commitment to the safe return of fans to stadiums.
Stadiums across the country have remained closed since March when the coronavirus pandemic first took hold in the UK and the government was recently forced to push back the gradual return of fans that was originally planned for October in light of increasing numbers of cases.
But as shops, restaurants, pubs and even cinemas remain open with social distancing and safety measures in place, there have been growing calls for football stadiums in particular, which have the benefit of being largely outdoor venues, to be allowed to re-open to the public in a controlled manner.
The open letter read: “The Premier League, EFL, The FA, Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship want to assure all fans that together we are fully committed to your safe return to football grounds as soon as possible.”
Work, guided by expert advice, has been ongoing for several months to make stadiums safe for the return of fans, with the various leagues and bodies suggesting that football venues, with such measures in place, could even be safer than any other public activity currently allowed.
“With the EFL, Premier League, Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship already staging 11 successful test events recently, we have demonstrated that we can deliver matches safely. The sooner we can return, the sooner we can reunite communities and support local jobs, livelihoods, regional businesses and also the national economy,” the open letter explained.
“We will continue to urge Government to allow us to return fans safely to stadiums. It is positive progress that major arts and music venues have been told they can run socially-distanced events indoors. And now football should be allowed to do the same - in highly regulated and stewarded outdoor environments.
“Additionally, representatives from football are active members of the Government's Sports Technology and Innovation Group, as well as being involved with their ‘Moonshot’ mass-testing project to open up the economy.
“And in light of the postponement of test events we will intensify our efforts to pioneer new approaches - working with epidemiologists, scientists and medical experts in areas such as public health, clinical processes and occupational hygiene. This will make sure stadiums are COVID-safe by considering best-practice screening and hygiene methods to ensure that fans and the general public will be safe and drive the Government's sporting plans to move faster.”
Proposed measures to make stadiums safe for returning fans include screening supporters on arrival, temperature checks, requiring masks to be worn, one-way systems, a code of conduct that must be adhered to by every individual and thorough deep cleaning practices.
“We are determined to identify a path forward with Government. We need clarity for our clubs and for you as supporters as to what the roadmap for change in this area looks like. We all know why caution is needed, and we ask Government for consistency in their policy so sport is treated as fairly as other activities currently allowed to welcome spectators.
“So, we will continue to urge the relevant authorities to let us, together, use innovative ways to bring fans safely back into football grounds, starting with a return of the test event programme. If we do so, then the benefits will be felt not just by fans but throughout society and the economy.”