Major UK sporting events including Wimbledon and the British Grand Prix will go ahead with crowds this summer if coronavirus lockdown restrictions continue to be eased ‘as planned’, the Sports Minister said today.
Nigel Huddleston insisted the Government was keen to get events back to full capacity as soon as possible and the current roadmap meant that both events ‘absolutely’ should go ahead with the crowds.
The Wimbledon Championships are scheduled for June 28 to July 11, while the Grand Prix is due at Silverstone from July 16 to 18 – with both coming after the Government is hoping to remove rules on social contact on June 21.
Ministers are also expected to use the FA Cup final on May 15 as a football test event with 20,000 fans to pave the way for larger crowds at Wembley Stadium for the European Championships this summer.
The League Cup final on April 25 and the FA Cup semi-finals on April 17 could also be test events, but talks are ongoing on this and they will be dependent on falling Covid-19 infection rates and the vaccination rollout. The World Snooker Championship could also be a pilot event when it takes place from April 17 to May 3 in Sheffield.
Wimbledon spectators are pictured watching Rafael Nadal on Court One during the championships in London in July 20187
F1 driver Lewis Hamilton celebrates his victory at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in Northamptonshire in July 2016
Speaking to Nick Ferrari on LBC today, Mr Huddleston told how the Government was finalising the details on how many people will be permitted to attend the pilot events which are due to take place in the coming months.
He said: ‘We are going to be working on the details of the exact numbers and it will be as many as we believe is safe, but also they are important testing processes so they’re great learning experiences to see what else we can open up afterwards.
Which major British sports events are due to take place this summer?
- April 17 – 18: FA Cup semi-finals, Wembley (possible test event)
- April 17 – May 3: World Snooker Championships, Sheffield (possible test event)
- April 25: League Cup final, Wembley (possible test event)
- May 15: FA Cup final, Wembley (possible test event)
- May 23: Premier League football, final matchweek
- June 11 – July 7: Euro 2020, around Europe including Wembley
- June 28 to July 11: Wimbledon Championships, London
- July 11 – 18: The Open Championship, Royal St George’s
- July 16 to 18: British Grand Prix, Silverstone
‘We’re planning on opening up sports stadia for example from May 17, so we want to get a few pilots in before that as well and make sure we’ve learnt about the systems in place, the hygiene measures, testing regimes and so on.
‘So they are a really important part of the opening up process but I’m afraid I can’t give you the full details yet. I suspect we’ll be working on the final details right up until the day before I’m afraid, that’s how these things work.
‘From May 17 the goal is for major events major outdoor stadia and so on, the capacity would be up to about 10,000 is the aspiration, so the pilot would be pushing it a little bit beyond that, and that’s quite important.’
Asked if there will be crowds at Wimbledon and the British Grand Prix, Mr Huddleston said: ‘If we can continue as we’re doing and proceed with the roadmap as planned, and as you’ve mentioned a couple of times this is a cautious but hopefully irreversible roadmap, then absolutely we should be having crowds.
‘I can’t say how many, I can’t say under exactly what circumstances. We want to get back to full capacity as soon as possible, because actually that’s really important for the finances of the sector as well.
‘We can open but unless we can open with large numbers we can’t open properly and therefore the entire sector is in jeopardy. Unless we can get the finances and the money flowing again, so we’re very aware of the importance of opening as great a capacity as possible.
‘But I’m afraid I can’t give any guarantees on the numbers yet, that’s why the pilot programmes and the overall next steps are so important.’
Sources close to talks between the football authorities and health officials have said the Euro 2020 semi-finals and final at Wembley, due to take place in July, could have substantial crowds of more than 50,000.
Speaking to Nick Ferrari on LBC today, Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston told how the Government was finalising the details on how many people will be permitted to attend the pilot events which are due to take place in the coming months
Those game will come after the crucial June 22 date, which the Government has set as the earliest possibility for ending social distancing restrictions.
How will lockdown be eased in the UK until end of June?
Step One Part One: March 8
From March 8, all pupils and students returned to schools and colleges across England.
So-called wrap-around childcare was also allowed to resume, paving the way for after and before school clubs to reopen.
People were allowed to meet one other person outside for recreation, for example, to have a picnic or to meet for coffee.
Care home residents were be able to have one regular named visitor.
The Government’s stay at home order remained in place, with travel for non-essential purposes still banned.
Step One Part Two: March 29 (TODAY)
From today, outdoor gatherings of up to six people or a larger group from up to two households are allowed. These gatherings are allowed to happen in private gardens.
Outdoor sports like tennis and basketball are now allowed to reopen and people are also able to take part in formally organised outdoor sports.
The Government’s stay at home guidance has ended and replaced by ministers encouraging people to ‘stay local’.
People are still being told to work from home wherever possible while international travel is still banned unless it is for essential purposes.
Step Two: April 12
Non-essential retail will be allowed to reopen as well as personal care premises like hairdressers, barbers and nail salons.
Public buildings like libraries, museums and art galleries will be allowed to welcome back customers.
Meanwhile, hospitality venues and outdoor attractions like theme parks will be given the green light to reopen in some form.
However, there will still be rules on household mixing: Essentially any activity which involves being indoors will be restricted to members of the same household.
Gyms and swimming pools will also reopen from April 12 but only on the basis that people go on their own or with their own household.
Pubs and restaurants will be able to reopen but at this point they will only be able to have customers outdoors.
The Government will not be bringing back the old requirement for people to order a substantial meal with alcohol while the old 10pm curfew will be ditched.
All customers at hospitality venues will also have to be seated when they order food or drink, with ordering at the bar prohibited.
Campsites and holiday lets where indoor facilities are not shared with other households can also reopen but trips must be restricted a single household.
Funerals will be allowed to continue with up to 30 people, while the rules on wedding receptions will be eased to allow the number of guests to increase from six to 15.
Step Three: May 17
The two household and rule of six requirements for outdoor gatherings will be ditched but gatherings of more than 30 people in places like parks will still be banned.
Crucially, mixing indoors will be allowed again. The rule of six or a larger group from up to two households will be allowed to meet.
However, this will be kept under review by ministers to see if rules could be relaxed still further.
This is also the point at which pubs and restaurants and other hospitality venues will be able to open indoors, with the rule of six and two household limit in place. But groups meeting outdoors at pubs will be allowed to be bigger.
Entertainment venues like cinemas and children’s play areas will be able to reopen, as will hotels and B&Bs. Indoor adult sports groups and exercise classes can also reopen.
Changes will also be made to sporting and performance events in indoor venues with a capacity of 1,000 people or half full.
Step Four: June 21
All legal restrictions on social contact are due to be removed.
Yet even if most coronavirus restrictions are ended, it is unlikely health officials will give the green light to capacity crowds though it is hoped that there may be substantial crowds at the final.
Premier League game will have crowds of 10,000 at the last two games of the season. The penultimate match round is set to be rearranged for a midweek so that both games falls inside the May 17 deadline to open venues.
Government rules will allow 10,000 fans at all grounds at this stage, though the Premier League want to ensure that every team gets at least one home game at such a potentially crucial stage of the season.
The FA Cup final is expected to be allowed more fans, despite coming before the May 17 deadline, because it will be serving as a test event for larger crowds at the Euros in the summer.
It comes as friends and families will be reunited and team sports will resume today in a major easing of England’s coronavirus lockdown to allow far greater freedom outdoors.
Groups of up to six, or two households, can socialise in parks and gardens once more, while outdoor sports facilities can reopen after the stay-at-home order ended today.
Among the first to re-open its doors was the Morley Hayes Golf Club, near Derby, with players teeing off at 12.01am today for a seven-hole floodlit charity tournament.
Boris Johnson stressed that ‘we must remain cautious, with cases rising across Europe and new variants threatening our vaccine rollout’, while warm weather was excepted to accompany the relaxation.
Football and cricket pitches, tennis and basketball courts, outdoor swimming pools, golf courses and sailing clubs are now free to reopen after months of being shuttered.
Organised team sports can also resume outdoors, meaning grassroots competitions can take place ahead of the Easter break without the need for social distancing.
Restrictions were eased as official figures showed more than 30 million people in the UK have received a first vaccine dose, accounting for about 57 per cent of all adults.
Mr Johnson said he hopes the easing will ‘kick-start a Great British summer of sport’ as sports stars teamed up with the Government to encourage a return to physical activity.
A new slogan was also unveiled to stress the importance of ventilation in reducing the spread of the virus: ‘Hands, Face, Space and Fresh Air.’
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the progress of the vaccine roll-out ‘must be protected’, adding ‘when you meet others do so outdoors and keep a safe distance’.
Chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty added: ‘The evidence is very clear that outdoor spaces are safer than indoors. It is important to remember this as we move into the next phase.’
Mr Johnson has warned that a spike in cases could be seen as parts of Europe are struck by a third wave of infections but hopes the vaccine roll-out will suppress hospitalisations and deaths.
The Prime Minister has sought to lose weight after his own admission to hospital with Covid-19 and the Government is now calling for the public to participate in a fitness drive, with children recommended to aim for an hour of physical activity a day, and adults for at least 150 minutes a week.
England World Cup-winning cricket captain Eoin Morgan said: ‘With summer – and the cricket season – just around the corner, there’s no better time for everyone, young and old, to get back to having fun by getting outdoors, being active and playing sport.’
British number one women’s tennis player Johanna Konta said: ‘I’m so happy people in England are now able to get back on court and enjoy the mental and physical health benefits of tennis.’
England Rugby Union prop Kyle Sinckler added: ‘I can’t wait to see you guys get out there, and all the kids getting back out there to enjoy themselves.’
The fitness drive comes after the latest figures showed more than 150,000 deaths involving coronavirus have been recorded in the UK.
In Wales, the ‘stay local’ order ended on Saturday and people were allowed to stay in self-contained holiday accommodation.
The stay home order in Scotland is to end on Friday, while in Northern Ireland up to six people, or two households, will be able to meet outdoors from Thursday.
It is the second major easing of England’s lockdown imposed in early January, with schools having been reopened to all pupils on March 8.
While greater outdoor freedoms are now permitted, the Government is still advising people to work from home where possible and minimise the number of journeys they take.
The next step in the roadmap to easing England’s lockdown is April 12, which is earmarked for non-essential shops to reopen and for outdoor hospitality, including pubs and restaurants.