Last Sunday’s Carabao Cup Final was the third event in two weeks to trial the re-introduction of fans into sporting venues.
Back in late February, when the Prime Minister set out the UK’s COVID-19 roadmap for the easing of lockdown restrictions, many sports fans would have circled the 17th of May on their calendars as the day they could once again return to professional sporting events. However, for a lucky few over the last couple of weeks, that wait is over. As part of the government’s pilot scheme for the COVID-19 recovery, three major sporting events in the past fortnight have played host to thousands of elated sports fanatics.
Most notably, last Sunday’s League Cup Final between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur saw an attendance of around 8,000 supporters at Wembley. Each side received 2,000 tickets each, with a further 4,000 split between NHS staff and residents of the local area.
Manchester City Head Coach Pep Guardiola described the return of supports as being “much better” whilst Captain Fernandinho tweeted: “The feeling of lifting this trophy with the fans back in the stadium will be forever with me”
Upon their return, players, managers, and pundits all expressed their excitement to see fans return to what has been an eerily quiet sporting experience over the past twelve months. Manchester City Head Coach Pep Guardiola described the return of supports as being “much better” whilst Captain Fernandinho tweeted: “The feeling of lifting this trophy with the fans back in the stadium will be forever with me.” This was the second time fans have been welcomed to Wembley this month, with the FA Cup semi-final between Leicester City and Southampton on the 18th of April seeing 4,000 neutral fans through the turnstiles.
A small proportion of snooker fans were also treated to a glimpse of live sport when the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield saw 320 masked spectators return for the opening session of this year’s Snooker World Championship. Visiting spectators were asked to provide a negative test either the day before or the day of their event. Furthermore, social distancing has been in full effect at all venues, and wearing a mask was a requirement upon entry.
In all cases, the pilot scheme has seemingly been successful, and fans should remain optimistic that they might have the opportunity to go see their teams in a matter of a couple of weeks. Under current plans, from May 17th, a maximum of 10,000 fans can return to large open-air venues. This would coincide with the final week of the Premier League season and would be a welcome sight to Cricket fans who will not have seen live Cricket in this country since September 2019.
With over half of the population now having had at least received one COVID-19 vaccine, the UK Government is remaining hopeful that the complete return of fans can be achieved in time for the summer’s major sporting events
Despite the inevitable increase in social interaction, neither the government’s decision to allow the return of a limited number of fans nor the nationwide easing of restrictions has seen a significant impact on cases of COVID-19 in the UK. Current figures declare that from an estimated 1 million tests a day, the UK is averaging 2,400 positive cases. With over half of the population now having had at least received one COVID-19 vaccine, the UK Government is remaining hopeful that the complete return of fans can be achieved in time for the summer’s major sporting events.
Many in the UK remain in awe of the lack of restrictions for those down-under. The Melbourne Cricket Ground broke a global record on Saturday when 78,000 fans attended an AFL match between Collingwood and Essendon. Yet, if the past two weeks are anything to go by, we can remain quietly confident that the prospect of being in attendance of live sport is a matter of weeks, rather than months away. All eyes now turn towards this summer’s European Championships where Wembley is set to host both the semi-finals and final.
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