Minister would ‘grab’ opportunity for more events to test return of fans

Richard Wheeler and Lewis McKenzie, PA Political Staff
·3-min read

The Culture Secretary has said he would “grab” any opportunity to increase the number of events to test the return of fans into sports stadiums.

Oliver Dowden faced calls from MPs for a Wembley final and Premier League Burnley’s Turf Moor stadium to be added to the venues used for the trials.

The FA Cup Final and the World Snooker Championship are among the pilot events designed to test the large-scale return of spectators to venues as the country seeks to reopen following the latest Covid-19 lockdown.

Under the Government’s current plans, up to 10,000 fans could be allowed in outdoor seated venues from May 17.

Speaking in the Commons, Labour’s Kate Osborne (Jarrow) said the delayed FA Vase Final between Consett AFC and Hebburn Town on May 3 should become a pilot event so fans can attend.

It is currently scheduled to take place behind closed doors.

Snooker balls are lined up in a suitcase (PA)
Snooker balls are lined up in a suitcase (PA)

Ms Osborne described the final as the “biggest match in Hebburn Town’s history”, with Mr Dowden replying: “I share her desire to get sports fans back in stadiums as quickly as we can.”

He added: “We have already set out a road map and I think it’s important to people that we stick to that road map and that would see fans returning, socially distanced, from May 17.

“We have already set out a pilot for the FA Cup Final.

“It’s important to understand what these pilots are about, they are about testing fans coming in to and out of stadiums, they’re not sort of windows to allow extra events to happen.

“We will of course keep this under review and if there is a possibility, of course I would grab it.”

Conservative MP Antony Higginbotham (Burnley) earlier asked whether Burnley FC could be included in the trials.

He said: “(Culture minister Nigel Huddleston) will be aware that in Burnley, our local economy is reliant on the football club which fills hotels, restaurants and bars.

“And whilst we know getting all of that back will be cautious and in line with the Prime Minister’s road map, can I urge him to look at whether Burnley Football Club can be included in the trials taking place to get more fans back using things like testing so that more and more fans from Burnley can get back to the Turf.”

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Mr Huddleston responded: “I know (Mr Higginbotham) shares my view that sport is not the same without fans in stadia.

“Officials from the department will have heard his offer, he’ll understand I can’t give him a guarantee today but I do appreciate his lobbying today.

“And it’s of course vital that we get fans back in stadia as soon as it’s safe to do so.

“The events research programme will be used to provide key scientific data into how small and large events could be permitted to safely reopen in line with the Prime Minister’s road map out of lockdown.

“Government departments are working very closely together on a range of options to support commercially viable ways to reopen businesses and leisure venues and further details will be released in due course.”