Brighton will host the first match with supporters in nearly six months this weekend after the British government announced plans to pilot test events in sport. The Seagulls will welcome fans at a pre-season friendly against a Chelsea on Sunday while spectators will also be allowed to watch a Women’s Super League game between West Ham and Arsenal on September 12.
Brighton said only 2,500 tickets would be made available to season-ticket holders for the match, which is set to trigger a scrap for supporters who have been starved of the matchday experience since before the start of lockdown. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has confirmed a raft of new events where spectators would be admitted on a socially distanced basis, following the ban on mass gatherings in March due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The events, which cover football, rugby union, horse racing, cricket, basketball and speedway, will take place over the course of the remainder of this month and September. Sporting fixtures that will be used in the trial include Harlequins v Bath on September 5, Newmarket races on September 24 and the British Speedway final on September 26. Fans have already been allowed to attend the World Snooker Championships at the Crucible earlier this month and now Government officials are pressing ahead with attempts to ease restrictions after a drop in infection rates.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said he was pleased to give fans a chance to enjoy sport once again but stressed that safety precautions were ‘imperative’. He said: ‘I know fans and their teams can’t wait to be reunited in stadia across the country but it’s imperative we take a cautious and phased approach to get fans back in safely.
‘I’m pleased that infection rates have levelled off enough to resume the pilot programme and we will continue to work intensively with sports, medical and health and safety experts towards welcoming more fans back as fast as we can. ‘Last month the Government had planned to roll out test events at Glorious Goodwood Festival, the Bob Willis Trophy at the Oval and Edgbaston, as well as at the Crucible, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson slammed the brakes after signs the UK’s coronavirus reproductive rate was rising.
The announcement provides a boost to hopes of spectators returning for Premier League and EFL games at some point later this year. October had been earmarked as a possible date for clubs to welcome back their supporters. Matches have been played behind closed doors since the Premier League resumed in June, with the Football League play-off games also played in empty stadiums – and that set-up will continue at the start of the 2020-21 campaign.
Last week football fans were given a taste of what could be ahead after 300 arrived for Ashton United’s friendly against Swindon with the Government allowing fans to attend matches at the seventh tier of the football pyramid and below.