Bristol Bears are leading the charge to become the first rugby club in England to host fans again, and hope to welcome 10,000 spectators to Ashton Gate as early as this month.
Unperturbed by the Prime Minister’s recent cancellation of trial fan events in cricket and other sports, the ambitious West Country club have submitted detailed plans to Premiership Rugby, who are lobbying the Government on their behalf.
Sportsmail understands that after extensive planning over recent months, Bristol are ready to host socially-distanced crowds and are now only waiting for the green light.
The Bears want to open their doors to fans for the home match against Exeter Chiefs on August 25 or, failing that, in the next game against Northampton Saints in September.
They are pushing to become the league’s pilot venue, but it is understood Wasps are also keen to host supporters at the Ricoh Arena. Wasps believe they have the best stadium in the league, with spacious, modern facilities to accommodate distancing.
Bristol chairman Chris Booy said: ‘Everybody wants crowds, from the Government down. Economically the clubs are desperate for it — not just for the finances but for the atmosphere.
‘We’ve done our analysis at Ashton Gate and we think even keeping within the current rules we could get a third of our capacity in comfortably without any difficulty. We could get 9,000 to 10,000, which would be a good crowd and would be able to cover our season-ticket holders.
‘The Government just need to be persuaded that we could do some trials. We’re actively trying to persuade them.
‘It would be a significant boost, bearing in mind clubs have zero income at the moment. There are a lot of season-ticket holders who are expecting money back if they can’t go, or a rebate.
‘It’s been a really tough period for the clubs, so any sort of money is critical. There’s a will from everyone, but obviously what is going on with other countries is worrying with increased Covid cases. We’ve got to be cautious, but there is a will and a want to do it.’
Bristol director of rugby Pat Lam told Sportsmail: ‘The facilities at Ashton Gate are great and everyone at Bristol Sport is comfortable with us doing it.
‘We could easily house fans. The sooner the better, and hopefully it’ll happen before the end of this season.’