The country’s major sporting bodies have written a joint letter to Boris Johnson and other party leaders collectively backing the idea of Covid passports to enable full stadiums at events this summer.
The FA, Scottish football, Premier League, EFL, Wimbledon, Lawn Tennis Association England and Wales Cricket Board and Silverstone have made clear that the return of crowds after May 17 is currently based on social distancing, which means venues will struggle to increase capacities above 25 per cent.
The open letter was published on Thursday night after the FA told UEFA that Wembley will be able to operate at a quarter capacity for each of England’s group games at Euro 2020 – allowing 22,500 fans to attend.
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Premier League chief executive Richard Masters says that football will have lost £2 billion since the start of the pandemic in match day revenue and broadcast income.
In an interview last month, Masters said the goal for football was to return to full stadia by the beginning of next season.
Now the Premier League has signed up to a letter, which calls on politicians to support a thorough review Covid passports as a way to achieve that.
‘There is a lot of water to pass under the bridge until that can happen, but that is our goal,’ Masters said in March. ‘A return to full, vibrant stadiums, a return to the normal Premier League.
‘We have got to get through step one to step four in the road map and look at the national picture and work with the government to create the conditions for that to happen. We believe it is an achievable goal.
‘The vaccination programme is the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s the thing that changes everything, from being controlled by the virus to controlling it, and returning to normality.
‘If the vaccination programme works in the way the government wants it to, it will bring the return of stadium, theatres, cinemas and ticketed events generally.’
It is hoped that Wembley will be at least half full for the semi-finals, but the dream of a 90,000-capacity crowd for the final will only be possible with some form of Covid passport.
Prime Minister Johnson confirmed this week that a certification app to prove if people have been vaccinated or tested negative for coronavirus is being considered as a way to help crowds return to events from June 21.
The Government’s proposals have been criticised by Conservative MPs and opposition parties, with Labour and SNP leaders Keir Starmer and Ian Blackford both saying they do not support the plans.
However, sports governing bodies have now piled pressure on politicians to vote in favour of Covid certificates by describing the scheme as a ‘credible option’ for major events, which can help ‘end sport’s financial crisis’.
The sports’ governing bodies have underlined that the passport must include testing for coronavirus, as well as immunity, so people who cannot, or don’t want to have the vaccine, can still attend events if they haven’t got Covid.
And they suggest the use of passports should be time limited.
‘All of our sports can see the benefit that a Covid certification process offers in getting more fans safely back to their sport as quickly as possible,’ the letter reads.
‘We know that our stadia can only be fully filled with an assurance process.
‘This process must ensure that everyone can access stadia and must include arrangements that would verify a negative Covid test or an antibody test or vaccination certification.
‘The final approach must not be discriminatory, should protect privacy, and have clear exit criteria.’
The EFL and Premier League have already expressed their support for the passports, if they help return fans to full stadiums.
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The Department for Culture Media and Sport, which is leading the efforts to return fans to stadiums, was quick to welcome the letter as a ‘constructive approach’.
The letter was addressed to the Prime Minister, Labour leader Starmer, Liberal Democrat chief Ed Davey, Ian Blackford, leader of the Scottish National Party in the House of Commons and Liz Saville-Roberts, group leader of Plaid Cymru at Westminster.
The sports bodies are desperate to see fans return to generate some much-needed revenue after more than a year with almost no spectators.
They fear that a combination of MPs from multiple parties could derail the review into the health passports, before the issue has even been properly considered.
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Emphasising that the passport should include testing for the virus as well as confirming immunity, and committing to a time -limited approach, the letter is calibrated to address some of the concerns held by politicians and focus minds on the potential outcome if a workable scheme can be achieved.
Labour leader Sir Keir has cast doubt on the use of covid passports, describing government plans this week as a ‘a complete mess’, which his party is unable to support ‘in their current form’.
Liberal Democrat Davey calls the passports ‘Covid ID cards’ and has described them as ‘illiberal’ and ‘unworkable’.
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The Covid-19 vaccination pilot scheme will begin after work on an updated NHS Covid app is completed, that will show a person’s coronavirus vaccination status. Pictured: A person holds up a smart phone with a mock-up of a vaccine passport
LIMITS FROM MAY 17
Under the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, increasing numbers of spectators are allowed at events, provided infection rates, hospitalisations and deaths from Covid remain low, and vaccination rates high.
From May 17, indoor venues will be allowed to admit up to a maximum of 1,000 spectators, or half their capacity if that figure is lower.
For outdoor events, there will be a maximum of 4,000 fans allowed, or half a venue’s capacity (whichever figure is lower).
However, at the biggest stadiums, with a capacity above 16,000, such as Wembley and Premier League football grounds, a maximum of 10,000 fans will be allowed, or a quarter of capacity (whichever figure is lower).
From June 21, it is hoped all social distancing requirements can be lifted.
The SNPs Blackford has said ‘on the basis of the information available, there is not a proposition in front of us that SNP MPs could support’.
Some 40 Tory MPs have made clear they are against domestic vaccine passports, warning that introducing the checks in everyday life would create a ‘two tier’ nation.
The combination of this opposition and a 40-strong Tory rebellion has prompted speculation that Mr Johnson could lose a vote on the issue in the House of Commons.
The Prime Minister, meanwhile, stressed on Wednesday it is ‘responsible’ for the Government to consider how best to safely reopen society and ‘we will look at all possibilities’.
The government is set embark on a series of pilot events examining the impact of social distancing, testing and covid passports on crowd safety.
The FA Cup Final on May 15 is due to be played in front of 21,000 people, who will have to show covid passports to attend.
Announcing the pilot events on Monday, Johnson said: ‘We are doing everything we can to enable the reopening of our country so people can return to the events, travel and other things they love as safely as possible, and these reviews will play an important role in allowing this to happen.’
England open their Euro 2020 campaign against Croatia at Wembley on June 13, before playing Scotland on June 18 and Czech Republic on June 22.
Those first two games have been given test event status by the Government so will have 22,500 fans instead of the 10,000 limit.
Hampden Park will also operate at a quarter capacity for its four matches allowing 12,750 supporters. It is expected 3,600 tickets will be reserved for Scottish fans for the England clash at Wembley.
Sir Keir Starmer confirmed Labour will not back domestic vaccine passports labelling Boris Johnson’s plans ‘a complete mess’. He is pictured in Plymouth with Labour MP Luke Pollard
Even though England’s match against the Czechs is after the June 21 date, Wembley will still only operate at 25 per cent capacity but the FA then wants bigger crowds for their knock-out fixtures.
UEFA heard from all 12 host cities at a Euros meeting on Thursday and were told that fans will take lateral flow tests the day before matches. The FA would like to use proof of vaccination as another tool.
The letter from the governing bodies adds: ‘It is important that we have certainty as soon as possible on the form this guidance will take so we can plan efficiently and effectively with many big sporting events scheduled for late June and onwards.
‘The return of fans will give a huge boost to millions who enjoy a day out at a sporting event with their friends and families and be of great benefit to the economy.
‘It is right that every possible action is considered to secure this outcome as soon as possible. This includes investigating how a Covid certification arrangement could reduce and then safely remove the requirement for social distancing.’
England’s Summer of Sport
Key events after 21 June – the earliest date all restrictions can be lifted:
11 June-11 July: Football – Euro 2020 in various countries, including seven matches at Wembley
28 June-11 July: Tennis – Wimbledon
29 June, 1 & 4 July: Cricket – England v Sri Lanka ODIs
8, 10 & 13 July: Cricket – England v Pakistan ODIs
13: Athletics – Diamond League: Anniversary Games at London Stadium
15-18 July: Golf – The Open at Royal St George’s
16, 18 & 20 July: Cricket – England v Pakistan T20s
17 July: Rugby League – Challenge Cup final at Wembley
18 July: Formula 1 – British Grand Prix at Silverstone
4 Aug-14 Sept: Cricket – England v India five Test series
27 Sept-1 Oct: Cricket – Bob Willis Trophy final at Lord’s
3 October: Athletics – London Marathon
9 October: Rugby League – Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford