Disappointment for three sports as UK crowd pilots off
The UK government has today dropped a pilot scheme under which limited numbers of spectators would have been allowed to attend selected sports events, after a rise in coronavirus cases.
Fans were set to be admitted for snooker’s World Championship at Sheffield, two county cricket matches in London and Birmingham and at a horse racing meeting at Goodwood this weekend to pave the way for larger crowds to attend events later this year once the pandemic has diminished.
However, prime minister Boris Johnson has now delayed a planned easing of general Covid-19 restrictions, and shelved the pilots, meaning the upcoming events will now go ahead without spectators.
Speaking at a news conference, Johnson said: “Pilots of larger crowds at sports venues will not take place. I said from May we would not hesitate to put on the brakes at the slightest sign that the numbers were going in the wrong direction."
The restrictions on spectators will apply until at least 15 August.
A maximum of 250 spectators were able to attend the start of the snooker showpiece at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield on Friday, but, from tomorrow, the event will be held behind closed doors.
World Snooker Tour is hopeful that fans will be able to return for the final in two weekends’ time pending government approval.
Some players had expressed concerns about the presence of spectators, with Anthony Hamilton, an asthma sufferer, withdrawing yesterday, and five-time world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan claiming that they were being treated like “lab rats.”
However, WST chairman Barry Hearn has insisted that the organisation was following government guidelines, with safety the number one priority.
Following today’s announcement on the pilot events, he said: “We realise this will be a huge disappointment for fans who were excited to witness the magic of the Crucible over the next fortnight, and we feel the same ourselves.”
Hearn added: “Snooker has led the way in terms of the return of live sport, in recent weeks we have been the first to stage live televised events and now live events with a small crowd. In the months to come we will continue to find innovative ways to bring sport back safely and entertain our many millions of fans around the globe.”
Up to 2,500 spectators per day had been expected at the Bob Willis Trophy cricket matches between Surrey and Middlesex at The Oval in London and between Warwickshire and Northamptonshire at Edgbaston in Birmingham starting tomorrow, while 4,000 racegoers were to be permitted at Goodwood on Saturday.
Under the pilot scheme, Surrey admitted 1,000 fans for a friendly against Middlesex last weekend.