Premier League fan return Q&A: What we know so far

Sports fans will be allowed to return to stadiums in England when the national lockdown ends on December 2, but how will it work? Here, Sky Sports News answers your questions…

The Premier League is finalising protocols for supporters to return to grounds following the government’s announcement on Monday and will consider the latest scientific advice at its disposal.

Premier League chiefs will also be guided by the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA), the government’s advisor on safety at sports grounds, which also issues licenses to all grounds in the top four tiers of English football.

Supporters are expected to adhere to a new code of conduct, with a final decision yet to be made over fans singing, shouting or buying alcohol inside stadia.

A date for a Premier League club meeting to formally approve the new protocols is yet to be confirmed, but the new guidelines will be continually monitored and improved to ensure fan safety as the Premier League remains in regular dialogue with fan groups.

Which teams and sports will be allowed to have fans?

Elite sports clubs and events hosted outdoors will be able to welcome back fans in a reduced capacity when the current lockdown ends on December 2.

The government’s tier system, based on local coronavirus infection rates, will determine the areas in which fans will be able to attend live sport. Areas will be split into Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 – viewed respectively as medium risk, high risk and very high risk of infection.

Outdoor stadiums in Tier 1 will be able to host up to 4,000 fans or 50 per cent of the stadiums’ maximum capacity – whichever number is lower. In Tier 2, the cap is set at 2,000 fans or 50 per cent of the stadiums’ capacity – but stadiums in Tier 3 will have to continue holding fixtures behind closed doors.

Indoor stadiums in Tiers 1 and 2 will be allowed to host up to 1,000 fans or half of their maximum capacity, depending on which is fewer.

What stadiums fall into which tier?

The new tiers will be announced by the government on Thursday.

Before the start of the second nationwide lockdown on November 5, areas in Tier 3 included parts of Merseyside, Lancashire, Greater Manchester, South Yorkshire, Cheshire and Nottinghamshire, while areas in Tier 2 included parts of Greater London, the Midlands, West Yorkshire, Essex, Leicestershire, Tyne and Wear and Northumberland, among others.

However, the Prime Minister warned the new tier system will be strengthened, meaning more areas will fall into higher tiers than previously.

How will clubs allocate tickets?

The demand for tickets after nine months of matches played behind closed doors is likely to be huge and while no decision has been taken so far, it is likely that each club will take their own decision on the matter.

One of the potential scenarios could involve a fan ballot of season ticket holders. Everton announced on Tuesday that, should Merseyside be placed in Tier 1 or 2, they will be employing a ballot process for season ticket holders and seasonal hospitality members for home fixtures starting with Chelsea’s visit to Goodison Park on December 12.

“The ballot will only be open to Season Ticket and Hospitality Members, with the aim of keeping family and friend groups together where possible. Fans will have to ‘opt-in’ for the ballot,” an Everton statement said.

Manchester City will also enter all season ticket holders from the 2019/20 season into a ballot on a match-by-match basis, and have contacted them to make sure they have up-to-date contact information as a precursor to being compliant with track and trace.

What safety measures will be in place?

In all settings, fans will be expected to follow the government’s guidelines to reduce the spread of the virus. This means they will have to follow social distancing guidelines, wear face coverings and sanitise their hands regularly.

However, supporters may be allowed to remove their face masks when in their seats before putting them back on in communal areas.

The temperature of fans may also be taken before entry into the stadium.

Stadiums will also follow guidance from the Sports Grounds Safety Authority, the government’s advisor on safety at sports grounds, around how the ground can be managed once fans are in.

The SGSA recommends that all ticket holders should be required to read and adhere to a Spectators’ Code of Conduct – a commitment “not only to respect the social distancing needs of others, but also to avoid acting in any way that might risk the health of fellow spectators and staff working at the ground”.

Will fans be allowed to sing and drink alcohol inside the stadium?

This is yet to be decided.

The Spectators’ Code Of Conduct states fans should take “extreme care” when shouting, singing or celebrating as there may be a “higher risk of projecting respiratory droplets and aerosols that have the potential to spread the virus to those in the vicinity”.

Will there be away fans or will local residents be the only fans allowed in?

Before the second nationwide lockdown in November, travelling from one tier to another was not allowed – therefore it is likely that away fans will not form part of the equation for the moment.

Is this good news financially for sports teams?

This news will significantly benefit many of the game’s lower league clubs, who rely on matchday revenue, although not all are convinced it will help them financially, with Tranmere chairman Mark Palios warning it could cost them money, depending on what tier Merseyside is placed in after lockdown.

It may also end up costing Premier League clubs in the short term.

Every match must meet stringent measures to receive a safety certificate and there may need to be more stewards in a stand to ensure social distancing and face covering rules are being enforced.

The Premier League has said its “ambition remains to work with the Government to increase attendance to more substantial levels.”

Will it damage the integrity of the competition if some teams have fans and others don’t?

There is a collective agreement to allow fans in as soon as it is safe to do so. The only other alternative is to go an entire season without supporters at games, and nobody wants to see that.

What is the plan to get grounds full again?

The government is taking it slowly, one step at a time. The Premier League would like more supporters inside stadia but it welcomed the Prime Minister’s statement on Monday.

No decision has yet been made on allowing more fans back in January, with the latest plans merely a pilot scheme to see how things go.

Coronavirus has proved unpredictable and returning to full grounds will only happen when infection levels drop across the country and there is a phasing out of the tier system.

Brighton CEO hopeful of ‘safe’ fan increase

Brighton & Hove Albion chief executive Paul Barber welcomed the news that fans could return to grounds but says the numbers of people attending matches needs to go up as soon as it is safe to do so.

“We have been preparing for fans to return to 25 per cent of our capacity,” he told Sky Sports. “Which would be around 7-8,000 supporters rather than the 2,000 or 4,000 we might get in the short term.

“At those sort of levels it is more viable for us so the aim is to scale up to those sort of levels as quickly and as safely as we can.

“If we can do that it returns football to a much more viable position than we have been in for some time. We need to prove to Government that we can do it safely and expand those numbers sooner rather than later.”

(c) Sky Sports 2020: Premier League fan return Q&A: What we know so far

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