The UK government have pencilled in the FA Cup and Carabao Cup finals as test events for the return of spectators, and hope to have 30,000 fans at Wembley Stadium for this summer’s European Championships.
The country is beginning to get a handle on the second wave of the pandemic, with the results of the latest nationwide lockdown reflected in decreasing case numbers across the country. Rollout of the vaccine is also going to plan – more than 15m people across the UK have now had their first dose.
But despite that, the return of spectators to sporting events is being treated with caution. While small numbers of fans were allowed into selected stadia before Christmas, there are no plans in place for a similar phased return in the short-term.
According to The Times, the plan this time around is to keep football behind closed doors for the rest of the Premier League season – with only the finals of the FA Cup and EFL Cup planned to have fans in attendance.
With a big summer of sport on the horizon, the government is keen to test out the viability of holding major events with a reduced capacity, and they see Wembley and its 90,000 capacity as the ideal venue to house socially distanced spectators. The finals, due to take place on 25 April (Carabao Cup) and 15 May (FA Cup) are seen as the perfect opportunity.
The Times also note that UEFA require host countries to hold at least two successful test events in order to have fans in attendance for the Euros. The government’s plan would allow the UK to fulfil that requirement.
The FA are planning 30-35% of the stadium’s capacity in attendance for the Euros, and that could mean more than 30,000 fans at Wembley for Manchester City vs Tottenham in April, though the actual number is likely to be far smaller if it is the first test event on the calendar.
The government also want to see fans at Wimbledon, the British Grand Prix and the Open, as well as unspecified horse races and England cricket matches.
More clarity is expected when Boris Johnson addresses the nation next week, but it is understood that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport are approaching things more cautiously than Westminster, who are pushing heavily for the return of spectators as early as possible.