Corner flag, Anfield, general photo (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

UK government confirm “pause” on return of fans – stadiums could be empty for MONTHS

The UK government have confirmed that plans for the return of fans to major sporting events from October 1 have been put on “pause,” in a big blow to football clubs.

Football was gearing up for supporters to return to games at a reduced capacity from next month, with Liverpool hopeful of welcoming around 12,500 for the Premier League clash with Sheffield United on October 24.

But an increase in cases of COVID-19 across the country has led to a rethink of safety measures, with the government also set to announce new restrictions on the hospitality industry.

On Tuesday morning, cabinet office minister Michael Gove told BBC Breakfast that the return of fans will be “paused,” and suggested that mistakes back in March—including a full Anfield for the Champions League defeat to Atletic Madrid—would inform their plans.

“It was the case that we were looking at a staged programme of more people returning,” he said.

“It wasn’t going to be the case that we were going to have stadiums thronged with fans.

“We’re looking at how we’re can, for the moment, pause that programme.

“What we do want to do is to make sure that, as and when circumstances allow, [we can] get more people back.

“The virus is less likely to spread outdoors than indoors, but again, it’s in the nature of major sporting events that there’s a lot of mingling.

“People look back now at the beginning of the pandemic and, of course, look at some of the major sporting events then and ask the question ‘why were they allowed to go ahead?’.

“Well, one of the things we must do now, whatever the wisdom of decisions made then, is to look at sporting events now with caution.

“But of course, we also recognise that sport is a vital part of the life of this nation and we’re looking at everything we can do in order to support our athletes, our great clubs, through what will be a challenging time.”

This follows a report from the Times‘ Martyn Ziegler that revealed that sport could be without fans until at least the end of the year.

“Sports leaders are resigned to the decision and have asked the prime minister for a £1.5 billion rescue package,” the report reads.

“The chiefs of various unions are preparing for behind-closed-doors rules on stadiums being in place for the rest of this year after the government’s chief medical and scientific advisers warned that tough new coronavirus measures are likely to last for six months.”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 12, 2020: Liverpool’s players in anthem jackets before the opening FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Leeds United FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

BBC Sport’s Dan Roan adds that “sports are to be asked by government what impact will be of no fans for several months,” which would be a hammer blow to clubs at every level of the football pyramid.

Most affected are, of course, those whose sole income is matchday revenue, but those at the top are also due to be significantly impacted, with Liverpool believed to have factored in losses in excess of £100 million.

This informed their business in the summer transfer window, with deals for Thiago and Diogo Jota only possible after negotiating minimal payments up front to Bayern Munich and Wolves respectively.

But the extended delay of fans returning to stadia could be even more damaging for those who have gambled with their spending in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The hope will be that the government are able to provide the relief needed, particularly for clubs in danger of collapse, but the news on Tuesday morning is grim either way.