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Coronavirus: Fans in stadiums to continue in select EFL matches

Premier League games continue to be played behind closed doors

The English Football League will continue to stage pilots with up to 1,000 fans at matches this weekend, following approval from the government.

EFL clubs were asked to put in requests by Tuesday in order for their plans to be signed off in time.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden will meet with sports bodies later this week to discuss the planned return of spectators to sport from 1 October.

The EFL said the pilots are an “important step” for fans’ safe return.

Those in local lockdown areas were told they would not receive permission to take part in the test events.

In a letter to clubs this morning, the EFL’s head of policy John Nagle said: “We cannot guarantee at this stage that all clubs that would like to stage a pilot will be given permission to do so, as only a limited number will be approved.

“We are still in discussions with regard to pilot matches on other dates.”

Nagle apologised for the “late notice and short timescales”, but said “we are very much in the government’s hands on this one”.

An EFL spokesman said it remains “in discussions with the government about the pilot programme which may include a limited number of further pilot matches during September with capacity limited to 1,000”.

“The League is clear in its view that social distancing can be applied safely in football stadia and that having crowds at matches is an absolutely essential part of helping to protect club finances, which remain under extreme pressure,” they added.

“Therefore, the successful delivery of further pilots will be an important step towards getting larger numbers of fans into grounds safely.”

Last week, the government restricted pilot events to 1,000 spectators after a rise in coronavirus cases, and said plans for grounds to be up to a third full from 1 October would be reviewed.

The Premier League has already written to the government over pilot plans and says around £100m per month will be lost by clubs across the leagues while matches continue behind closed doors.

It is one of a number of sports bodies to have voiced concerns at the financial impact of an extended period with empty venues.

Nigel Huddleston, Minister for Sport, Tourism and Heritage, has written to former sports minister Tracey Crouch MPexternal-link to state that despite changes to Covid-19 restrictions, the UK government is hopeful fans can attend events under socially distanced conditions from 1 October.

‘We wouldn’t last the season’

On Monday, the second pilot fixture in rugby union’s Premiership took place as 1,000 spectators attended Gloucester’s match with Harlequins.

Meanwhile, a report in the Times on Tuesday claimsexternal-link attendances could be restricted to between 1,000 and 2,500 from 1 October, depending on the coronavirus infection rate.

Gloucester chief executive Lance Bradley told BBC Radio 4 that level of restriction would be “a disaster” if put in place for the remainder of the season.

“We simply have to get fans back in reasonable numbers as soon as possible to ensure the game survives,” said Bradley. “We can’t keep going losing money with 1,000 or 2,000 fans.

“In the end, that would be a disaster. There are clubs in a worse position than us but we would find it very difficult.

“We wouldn’t be able to make it through the season if we were only allowed crowds of 2,500.”

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