The FA Cup final and the World Snooker Championship are to be used as pilot events as part of the UK Government’s scheme to test plans for the return of spectators to large-scale events.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport say “around a dozen” sporting and cultural events will be included in the pilot programme, which is due to begin in April as part of the roadmap to easing coronavirus restrictions laid out by Prime Minister Boris Johnson last month.
The FA Cup final on May 15 is the most high-profile of the events announced by DCMS. Decisions on capacity for any of the events have not yet been taken, but it is reasonable to expect that for the FA Cup final the intention would be to go considerably beyond the 10,000 limit for larger outdoor seated venues set to come into force at step three of the road map on May 17.
The pilots form part of the Events Research Programme (ERP) and will inform Government decisions on step four of the road map, which will begin no earlier than June 21 when it is hoped spectators will be able to get back safely and in large numbers. The idea is to test a range of sporting and cultural venues, from Wembley on one hand to a 200-capacity comedy club on the other.
With such a range of venues to test within the ERP and the limited number of events proposed by DCMS, it leaves open the question of whether the EFL or the Premier League will be involved in the pilots.
The EFL is understood to remain keen to participate, with the Carabao Cup final between Manchester City and Tottenham – also to be played at Wembley on April 25 – considered its ideal event to test.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “These test events will be crucial in finding ways to get fans and audiences back in safely without social distancing.
“We will be guided by the science and medical experts, but will work flat out to make that happen. We want to get the people back to enjoying what they love and ensure some of our most important growth industries get back on their feet.
“These are important steps towards the safe and special summer we all crave and that I’m fully focused on delivering.”
The events will test a range of ‘non-pharmaceutical’ methods to allow the safe return of fans without social distancing – including venue layout, face coverings and ventilation.
Researchers will monitor spectators’ movements and interactions while the event is ongoing, DCMS said.
Rapid testing will also be key to the events. Testing before and after the event will be mandatory, but it is not confirmed yet how close to the event a negative test would need to be provided to allow entry.
David Ross, the founder of Carphone Warehouse and the chair of the Sports Technology and Innovation Group (STIG) which oversaw pilot events last year, will be one of the co-advisers on the ERP.
A report from the ERP will go to Government for consideration before the end of May, DCMS said.