General

20/09/2020

MUST comment on the Safe Return of Fans to Football

MUST is fully behind the case that the Premier League and the EFL have made to government for the safe return of supporters in significantly reduced but economically viable pragmatic numbers. It goes without saying that the health of the wider public (as well as supporters themselves and their families) remains the absolute priority but that is not the same as a blanket ban by the government on any possibility of fans returning. 
 
It’s worth noting that the plans of Premier League clubs (and we are sure others too) include much stricter checks, rules and active stewarding to accommodate socially distanced fans in an outdoor environment. These measures, based on the government’s own Sports Ground Safety Authority (SGSA) Covid guidance, go further than what exists currently in indoor hospitality venues which are already running at a much higher proportion of capacity than will apply in sports stadiums (and will be a safer environment than gathering in numbers inside houses to watch matches).  Fans themselves of course will make a personal and responsible choice whether to attend a much changed matchday experience, and it will be incumbent on them to accept and abide by the new conditions. But they should be granted that choice. 

We do not ask for football fans to be given preferential treatment but nor can they be disproportionately penalised. In a lockdown we didn’t expect fans to be able to attend football matches and, in case of future lockdowns, the same logic applies. However, if pubs and restaurants can have socially distanced groups of six then so should sports events, particularly when outdoors. That’s before you consider other ‘freedoms’ currently allowed including  sitting without any distancing on a plane between two strangers - literally rubbing shoulders! 

Large events of course throw up other issues such as public transport capacity, which of course need to be considered. However that should be on a case by case basis by local authorities and safety groups, not by central Government not even allowing decisions to be made at the local level. If a ground has huge amounts of parking available with minimal impact on public transport, surely that requires different considerations to a ground without parking and concerns over pressure on public transport. That should not be a decision for 10 Downing Street. 
 
To be clear, this is not a plea for ‘rich’ Premier league clubs and their fans. The needs of the whole football pyramid, and indeed all spectator sports whose clubs rely almost entirely on matchday income, are even higher. Many clubs and whole sporting competitions face an existential threat to their existence. Assuming that government does not intend to fully bail out the whole of sport, we urge it to make these decisions based on objective local examination of club plans and their real health risks.  

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