Timeline of fan participation in sporting events

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English supporters in the stands as England defeat Croatia

The Wimbledon women’s and men’s finals will be played in front of a large crowd on center court, while around 40,000 fans will be at Wembley for the Euro 2020 final despite the delay in lifting the remaining coronavirus restrictions in England .

Here, the PA News Agency traces the back and forth steps on fans allowed at sporting events since the pandemic hit the UK last year.

The stands were packed for the Cheltenham Festival 2020
The stands were packed for the 2020 Cheltenham Festival (Andrew Matthews / PA)

The last major unrestricted sporting events take place in the week starting March 9, including Liverpool’s Champions League round of 16 game against Atletico Madrid at Anfield and the Cheltenham Festival racing.

Elite sport is forced into suspension during the first national lockdown and only emerges behind closed doors from early June.

The government is announcing that spectators will return to trial events over the summer, with a view to a wider and socially distanced reopening of venues from October 1.

Cricket fans at the friendly match in Surrey vs Middlesex last July
Cricket fans at Surrey’s friendly against Middlesex last July (PA)

Spectators attend a sporting event for the first time since March, when the friendly Surrey v Middlesex begins at the Oval.

Fans are watching the first day of the World Snooker Championship, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the rest of the event, as well as the last day of Glorious Goodwood, is now due to take place behind closed doors due to a peak case.

The government is announcing that pilot events to test the safe return of spectators could resume from Saturday, August 15 – including the World Snooker final.

Fans disinfect their hands ahead of Brighton's pre-season friendly against Chelsea on August 29, 2020
Fans disinfect their hands ahead of the Brighton pre-season friendly against Chelsea on August 29, 2020 (PA)

A new roster of pilot events covering football, rugby, horse racing, cricket, basketball and speedway is announced for the rest of August and September.

Spectators attend the St Leger Festival in Doncaster, the first race meeting with crowds since March. However, the course announces that the remainder of the meeting will be held in camera. An increase in infections not seen since the first lockdown is forcing the government to limit participation in pilot events to 1,000 spectators, or revert to no crowds in areas with particularly high infection levels.

Boris Johnson pressed pause when spectators return after fall spike in Covid-19 cases
Boris Johnson pressed the break when spectators returned after fall spike in Covid-19 (PA) cases

The Prime Minister announces that the planned return of spectators to sports venues on a socially distanced basis from October 1 will not continue due to an increase in coronavirus cases. He said the restrictions would be in place for “maybe six months.”

The country is entering a second national lockdown, but elite sport is allowed to continue.

The Prime Minister announces that the sites for levels one and two of the government’s new regional system for fighting infections will be able to open on a limited capacity basis from December 2.

EFL matches at Wycombe, Luton, Charlton, Shrewsbury, Carlisle and Cambridge are all with spectators in attendance, the first to do so for a series of pilot events in September. Race meetings at Ludlow, Lingfield, Kempton and Haydock also welcome spectators.

Liverpool fans watched the game against West Brom before the city was removed from level two
Liverpool fans watched the game against West Brom before the city was removed from the second tier (Stu Forster / PA)

At the end of the year, only the Isles of Scilly remain in levels one or two. The game between Liverpool and West Brom on December 27 was the last Premier League game to be played in front of 2,000 spectators. The last EFL matches with crowds were played in Plymouth, Shrewsbury and Barrow two days later.

February 22, 2021
The government announces its “roadmap” for coronavirus recovery, with the country in a third lockdown since January 4. It spells out plans for up to 10,000 viewers to return to venues from May 17, provided data at the time supports the easing of restrictions. The government has announced that it will launch an Events Research Program (ERP) in the spring to examine measures that will allow crowds to return to the scene in greater numbers starting June 21.

The first ERP pilot events are confirmed – the FA Cup final in May and the World Snooker Championship from April.

April 17, 2021
The World Snooker Championship becomes the first sporting event to once again welcome spectators.

Two thousand Manchester City fans attended the Carabao Cup final on April 25
Two thousand Manchester City fans attended the Carabao Cup final on April 25 (PA)

The Carabao Cup final at Wembley – which was added to the ERP roster after March 13 – is the first outdoor sporting event with fans in attendance. Spectators attended the FA Cup semi-final between Leicester and Southampton on April 18, but they were residents and key workers who lived locally at Wembley.

May 2, 2021
The first day of the World Snooker Championship final is the first sporting event to be played at full capacity since the start of the pandemic.

Large crowd attended the last two days of the World Snooker Championship
Large crowd attended the last two days of the World Snooker Championship (PA)

Prime Minister confirms government is moving forward with plans to take the third stage of recovery roadmap, which means sports venues across England will again be able to accommodate up to 10,000 spectators from May 17.

Despite an announcement from Boris Johnson that the lifting of the remaining coronavirus restrictions in England will be delayed for up to four weeks, the government confirms plans for up to 20 pilot events in sports and entertainment, Wimbledon and the Championship of ‘Europe of football being the big winners. Wembley will host the UK’s largest sporting crowd for over 15 months, with around 40,000 fans in attendance for the last four Euro 2020 matches at the stadium, including the semi-finals and the final. Meanwhile, the Wimbledon women’s final on July 10 and the men’s final on July 11 will be played in front of a full center court at SW19, with the tournament starting with 50% floor capacity.



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