The planned return of spectators to sports venues in England from October 1 could be on hold for six months due to fears over a second wave of coronavirus infections.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a range of restrictions in the House of Commons on Tuesday lunchtime, including those related to mass gatherings.
“We have to acknowledge that the spread of the virus is now affecting our ability to reopen business conferences, exhibitions and large sporting events,” he said.
“So we will not be able to do this from October 1 and I recognise the implications for our sports clubs which are the life and soul of our communities, and my right honourable friends the Chancellor and the Culture Secretary are working urgently on what we can do now to support them.”
Johnson added the measures would remain in place for ‘perhaps six months’, saying: “We will spare no effort in developing vaccines, treatments, new forms of mass-testing but unless we palpably make progress we should assume that the restrictions that I have announced will remain in place for perhaps six months.
“For the time being, this virus is a fact of our lives and I must tell the House and the country that our fight against it will continue.”
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport was tasked with co-ordinating the return of fans and had told Sky Sports News on several occasions that October 1 was an ‘aspirational’ date which they would all work towards.
It has since confirmed all pilot events scheduled for September had been cancelled and the events would be played behind closed doors.
Premiership Rugby confirmed this affected the match between Bath and Gloucester on Tuesday night, and Bristol against Leicester next week.
The latest announcement is a devastating blow to sports clubs across the country, many of whom rely heavily on match-day revenue for survival, and leaders of more than 100 sports bodies have written to the Prime Minister to request emergency funds to stave off a “lost generation of activity”.
The group warned the future of the sector is “perilous” and urged the government to provide a “sports recovery fund” in order to help the industry endure the prolonged effects of the pandemic.
The letter, written by organisations including the Football Association, Premier League, Rugby Football Union and England and Wales Cricket Board, reportedly states: “We require a comprehensive support package for the sport and physical sector to aid its recovery.
“This package must combine investment, tax incentives, and regulatory reform.
“Covid-19 has undermined our commercial revenue streams with both stadiums and leisure facilities closed or greatly reduced in capacity. The impact of this will potentially lead to a lost generation of sport and activity.”