Wimbledon expected to receive special dispensation for 50 per cent capacity

·8-min read
All England Club - REUTERS
All England Club - REUTERS

Wimbledon is poised to get special dispensation to be half full despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson's likely delay to "freedom day".

The Prime Minister has long earmarked the showpiece tennis tournament and Euro 2020 as crown jewel events to show the world Britain is on the road to recovery.

Senior sporting figures are now growing increasingly confident that the All England Club will be added to Whitehall's pilot scheme, which would effectively allow the venue to double its planned crowd to around 21,000 a day.

As Telegraph Sport disclosed on Thursday (see below), Wembley is already in the frame to be granted testing status so crowds of up to 40,000 can be welcomed from the last-16.

However, other sports, including rugby and F1, remain in the dark over plans as the Government looks set to delay plans to ease lockdown completely on June 21.

If a delay is announced, the Premiership Rugby Final at Twickenham on June 26 will only be allowed 10,000 spectators unless ministers intervene. Rugby sources had been hopeful the Government would at least allow the event to fall in line with the group stages of the European Championships, which will see 22,500 inside Wembley.

The Silverstone grand prix and golf's Open at Royal St George are also facing anxious waits ahead of Monday's Government announcement. Both events would be affected if restrictions are delayed by up to a month.

Renewed nervousness in sport comes as the latest figures from Public Health England (PHE), published on Friday, show that 42,323 cases of the Delta variant first identified in India have been confirmed in the UK, up by 29,892 from last week.

It estimates that the strain is 60% more transmissible compared with the previously dominant Alpha, or Kent, variant, and that cases are doubling every four and a half days in some parts of England.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Coronavirus chairwoman Layla Moran said the figures should “set alarm bells ringing in Government”.

Wimbledon had been planning in recent months for 25 per cent spectator capacity, but had been cautiously optimistic that numbers could be increased. The All England Club first revealed in April that they were expecting to accommodate at least a quarter of the usual number of fans but that they hoped more tickets would go on sale in June if restrictions continued to be eased.

Just 15 cases of Covid-19 emerged among 58,000 people who took part in sport and arts test events – and no infections at all took place during the FA Cup final at Wembley.

Despite the recent upturn in infection, nearly 20,000 cricket fans were welcomed into Edgbaston for England's second Test against New Zealand. The venue operated at 70 per cent capacity in the new pilot scheme.

Inclusion in the pilot schemes means fans travelling to both Wimbledon and Wembley in the coming weeks will all have to be tested before and after matches to enable the Government to collect data.

Prof Robert Dingwall, a public health specialist at Nottingham Trent's School of Social Sciences, had previously said the All England Club should be planning for attendances of up to 70 per cent. "There is a broad scientific consensus that outdoors is as near zero risk as any scientist will ever commit to, unless spending any length of time in a very crowded space with restricted air movement," he told Telegraph Sport.

Meanwhile, Andy Murray will be handed a wildcard for Wimbledon despite injury worries that may yet rule him out of Queen’s, the traditional warm-up tournament.

The All England Club appears set to hand him the chance of featuring even though it would effectively forfeit a fellow Briton's chance if he subsequently pulls out.

Murray, the former world No 1, has not featured in Wimbledon singles since 2017, when he was beaten by Sam Querrey in the quarter-finals while clearly hampered by his career-eroding hip problem.

He has since undergone two surgeries, but consistent top-level wins have evaded him, and his chances of playing at Queen's are rated as less than 75 per cent. The eight main draw wildcards for Wimbledon have yet to be announced, but Leon Smith, head of men's tennis at the LTA, said that "with Andy's situation specifically, we're planning on being fit and ready to play".

"We can't legislate for what might happen in the weeks to come," he said. "Certainly, we're planning on him being involved in the Championships, and therefore, nominating... but if something happens between now and then, it's out of our hands."

on Saturday the LTA outlines its vision for domestic tennis post-Covid. It is commiting to doubling the number of adult International ITF World Tennis Tour events staged in Great Britain - to 15 events for both men and women. This means that in 2022 there will be a total of 74 international events staged in Britain, outside of the grass court season, up from 36 in 2018.

Scott Lloyd, the LTA's chief executive, said: “Our ambition for the past few years has been to increase the number of domestic and international tournaments but the pandemic has prevented us from realising that until now. We are now committed to a significant increase in the number of competitive events at all levels of our pathway in 2022 – so we can give British players of all ages the best possible opportunities to compete and win.”

Wembley close to green light for just under 50 per cent capacity at Euro 2020 knockouts

By Tom Morgan and Ben Rumsby

Wembley is on the brink of being almost half full for the knock-out stages of the European Championship - regardless of the Prime Minister's lockdown update next week.

Senior figures within sport and Whitehall are in advanced talks around signing off measures which will ensure the home of English football can scale up numbers even if "freedom day" is delayed. With the Delta variant first identified in India now comprising 91 per cent of cases of coronavirus in the UK, the Government is expected to decide next week whether to proceed with a further easing of restrictions in England on June 21.

However, the FA is set to be reassured that Wembley can remain on track to boost numbers from the 22,500 crowd levels that have already been given the green light for the group stages. Just 15 cases of Covid-19 emerged among 58,000 people who took part in sport and arts test events - and no infections at all took place during the FA Cup final at Wembley.

Buoyed by the results, senior figures within sport and Whitehall are hopeful of giving assurances imminently that the national stadium can welcome around 40,000 spectators by the knock-out stages.

Senior figures in Government had been hopeful Wembley could be at capacity by the final - but figures close to the stadium have been consistently conservative about hopes of exceeding around 40 per cent even in the latter stages.

A fortnight ago Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, hailed the "real success" of pilots so far. Results showed just four cases across 17 days of the World Snooker Championships, staged indoors at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre. The majority of the infections in the overall trial numbers were caused by nine cases found among 6,000 revellers at a nightclub in Liverpool without masks.

However, confidence across the sporting sector about the full reopening of venues has been dented by Covid-19 case rates increasing across every region in England in recent weeks.

The latest weekly surveillance report from Public Health England (PHE), published on Thursday, shows that rates in north-west England increased to 149.6 cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to June 6, up week-on-week from 89.4. PHE says case rates have risen among almost all age groups in England, with a spike in rates amongst 20 to 29-year-olds, going from 54.0 in the week ending May 30 to 121.0 in the seven days to June 6.

The Government said on Thursday that seven more people had died within 28 days of testing positive, bringing the UK total to 127,867.

Despite the upturn in infection, nearly 20,000 cricket fans were welcomed into Edgbaston for opening day of England's Test match against New Zealand. The venue was allowed to operate at 70 per cent capacity after being included in the second round of pilot tests.

Meanwhile, England's Euro group games, including against Scotland, remain in line for 22,500. As disclosed by Telegraph Sport last month, England fans will have to produce a negative coronavirus test.

Wimbledon is also among events hopeful of allowing more spectators this summer. Prof Robert Dingwall, a public health specialist at Nottingham Trent's School of Social Sciences, had previously said the All England Club should be planning for attendances of up to 70 per cent. "There is a broad scientific consensus that outdoors is as near zero risk as any scientist will ever commit to, unless spending any length of time in a very crowded space with restricted air movement," he told Telegraph Sport.

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