Press "Enter" to skip to content

Fans’ return left in tatters: Surrey dismayed by Boris Johnson’s decision

Sport was left reeling on Friday after test events allowing the return of fans were scrapped by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Around 5,000 racegoers were expected at the Glorious Goodwood festival on Saturday, and cricket fans were to be allowed back in for two fixtures in the Bob Willis Trophy at the Oval and Edgbaston. However, these plans have been put on ice over fears of a second wave of coronavirus.

The World Snooker Championship welcomed fans for its first day on Friday but the remaining 16 days will be held behind closed doors following the Prime Minister’s decision.

Here, Sportsmail’s experts have their say on the impact the Government’s decision will have on different sports…

Lawrence Booth

Surrey have reacted with dismay to the Government’s decision not to allow fans into the Oval on Saturday because of Covid-19, with club officials fearing the late change of heart could cost them about £50,000.

Some 2,500 spectators were due to attend the club’s first game in the new four-day Bob Willis Trophy against Middlesex, with the same number scheduled to be at Edgbaston for Warwickshire’s match against Northamptonshire.

That follows recent successful crowd pilot schemes at both venues, which had led Surrey to believe they had done enough to ensure spectators’ safety.

‘We only got a call about it half an hour before the Prime Minister spoke,’ said chief executive Richard Gould.

‘We were really confident about the spacing of fans at the trial games, which showed it was a safe and secure environment.

‘There was so much room to walk around — density levels were lower than for a walk along the South Bank. We’re confident we can keep people safe, especially outside. We’re a bit surprised to be caught up in it, but hopefully we can go again in two weeks’ time.’

Surrey used 23 per cent of their capacity for the recent two-day friendly against Middlesex, with spectators allowed to use alternate rows of seats, but with two seats between groups.

‘We’d done all the hard work,’ said Gould. ‘We’d got a safety certificate issued by Lambeth Council, and all the stewards were put on notice. The whole thing will cost us around £50,000.

‘It’s the supporters I feel sorry for. There will be a lot of frustration. I just hope we don’t become a political football.’

Mike Dickson

Tennis will largely be able to shrug off the Government’s move, although an exception is November’s ATP Finals, the last to be held at London’s O2 Arena.

One of the UK’s best attended sports events, the men’s tour is desperate to make sure it happens as a full stop to a chaotic season. Ideally they are hoping to accommodate some of the usual 250,000 spectators, but have pledged to go ahead with nobody present to fulfil obligations to broadcasters and sponsors.

The tournament generates about £7.5million in revenue for the tour, but most of this is secure as long as the tennis is played. More of a concern are travel restrictions on the international field.

The public could have been allowed into exhibition and low-key events planned in the UK for the rest of this year, but these are small fry compared to the London finale for the ATP before it moves to Turin next year.

Derek Lawrenson

The European Tour will consider admitting fans to the Scottish Open and the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in October, if given any Government encouragement.

The latter is one of the most popular sports events on the UK calendar, with a total attendance of more than 125,000 last year, when Danny Willett won. No spectators were planned for the current six-week UK swing and the tour are prepared to continue on that basis for the rest of the year.

A tour spokesman said: ‘We are looking into the possibility of spectator attendance at events played later in 2020, but we are not committed to it at this stage. It depends on the mitigation of risk and Government approval of the country we are playing in.’

Nik Simon

Premiership clubs will continue to lose around one third of their revenue until fans are allowed back in stadiums.

A number of teams, including Wasps, have already prepared their stadiums to welcome fans into a Covid-secure environment, but that appears increasingly unlikely for this campaign.

The RFU remain hopeful of hosting limited crowds for the autumn internationals — and Wasps chief executive Stephen Vaughan told Sportsmail that the return of fans will be a welcome boost.

‘During lockdown, we have proactively readied ourselves for when it’s lifted,’ said Vaughan. ‘We brought in a specialist company who have done a complete audit of our stadium facilities to work out what we can and can’t do. We’ve looked at one and two-metre social distancing, cashless stadia, digital ticketing and reducing physical touchpoints.

‘We’ve already done that modelling and we’re ready to go. We’re just waiting for the Government to give us the green light.

‘It will be massive to have fans back. Your heartland Premiership clubs get about a third of their revenue from matchday receipts.

‘There’s also a playing perspective. It isn’t the same spectacle without supporters and players thrive off the atmosphere. We’re all very keen to get spectators, corporate customers and sponsors back in.’

Riath Al-Samarrai

Anthony Joshua will ‘definitely’ fight Kubrat Pulev in 2020 despite the new restrictions on spectators that were introduced on Friday — but the latest developments have increased the likelihood of the bout taking place overseas.

Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn confirmed earlier this week that the bout had been moved to December in line with projections of bigger crowds being permitted to sporting events in this country.

But in the wake of the announcement that fans will not be allowed to attend pilot events this weekend Hearn has indicated they could be forced to change Joshua’s plans.

While he guaranteed WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight world champion Joshua would still be fighting, and that their preference is a location in Britain, it is increasingly likely to be behind closed doors or even abroad.

Hearn, whose £5million Matchroom Fight Camp project stages its first quarantined card tonight, told Sportsmail: ‘There’s a very strong chance that AJ will now have to fight in this kind of closed-doors environment as well. Our plans are not waiting for the crowds, they are to advance the sport by any means.

‘He won’t fight in the Matchroom garden because it is December and the weather is a factor, but closed doors is possible. If the situation with no crowds develops, we have to be ready. He will fight this year — closed doors or not.

‘We are not ruling out going somewhere else because there will be territories that are Covid free. But the focus is still the UK.’

Joshua has not fought since he beat Andy Ruiz in Saudi Arabia last December.

 – Marcus Townend

Managing director Adam Waterworth estimates cancelling Saturday’s pilot event, when 5,000 racegoers should have converged on the final day of Glorious Goodwood, has cost the track a ‘six-figure sum’ but the cost to racing is much, much bigger.

Saturday’s event should have produced a blueprint for a phased return of spectators and racecourse executives from other tracks were going to be present.

Waterworth said: ‘It has cost us six figures. But it was never a money-making exercise, it was about proving we could get crowds back.

‘The loss is huge in what is already a year when there is no profit and the loss figure is getting bigger and bigger. Crowds are what we are all about. Between 70 and 80 per cent of our revenue is directly due to people coming through the gates. It’s a big kick because there was a bit of light at the end of the tunnel having thought we had actually done it getting crowds back.’

Summer days and nights with entertainment to accompany the racing are some track’s big annual earners.

An immediate ramification of the Goodwood decision and the fact that spectator restrictions will be enforced until at least August 15 was the decision by York to make the prestigious four-day Ebor meeting, which starts on August 19, crowd free.

Chief executive William Derby said it was ‘no longer viable’ to plan for another trial event, adding: ‘As with many plans this year that is filed back on the shelf.’

Doncaster still hope that some spectators might be allowed in to their St Leger meeting starting on September 9.

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *