Premier League clubs are at loggerheads with the Government over plans for the safe return of fans to stadiums.
Sportsmail has learned that the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA), the public body responsible for ensuring the safety of spectators, have based their target of 30 per cent occupancy at stadiums when fans are permitted to return on selling tickets in blocks of six, which the clubs consider impractical.
Talks remain ongoing between the Premier League, the clubs and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport but there are concerns that if the SGSA recommendations are adopted then the planned return of fans will prove unworkable and could be uneconomic for those in the lower divisions.
The clubs’ priority when crowds are allowed is to ensure that as many season-ticket holders as possible are able to attend matches, with their data showing very few fans go to games in groups of six.
Given most season-ticket holders generally attend games in much smaller groups, it is feared that clubs will only be able to operate grounds at around 20 per cent of capacity if they are to comply with the Government’s social distancing guidance. Such an occupancy rate would still be worthwhile in the Premier League due to their high ticket prices but clubs in the lower leagues may find it uneconomic.
The Government remain hopeful of sanctioning the return of some spectators for the start of October, despite the setbacks that led to several planned test events being cancelled earlier this month. On Wednesday, Sportsmail revealed that the plan for fans to attend the Community Shield at Wembley this month is off.
The Premier League have made the return of fans their No 1 priority for next season after Project Restart was successfully completed behind closed doors.
‘The season may have finished but our work doesn’t stop,’ said Premier League chief executive Richard Masters. We have a working group examining practical solutions, working with the Sports Grounds Safety Authority and medical experts, and looking at where we can be innovative.
‘We must test and prove what is possible, in tandem with the authorities, within a framework that is flexible and can adapt to fast-moving circumstances and developing expertise.’