The government has confirmed that plans to get fans back in football stadiums by October 1st have been pushed back, with supporters at games perhaps now looking unlikely until 2021.
The health and safety of the public must come first during the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed close to a million lives across the globe, and which initially forced football to grind to a halt completely back in March.
While it is a relief that games have been able to return pretty smoothly since June, both here and in many other countries all over the world, it is simply not the same without the atmosphere that fans bring to grounds.
Now that we know more about how this virus transmits, and the age groups most vulnerable, it seems like there is perhaps a lack of ambitious thinking on ensuring we can get supporters into grounds safely.
An excellent Twitter thread from Muge Cevik, an infectious diseases researcher from the University of St Andrew’s, highlights the big differences in outdoor and indoor gatherings in terms of spreading the virus. With pubs, cafes and restaurants remaining open in the UK, it is pretty baffling that getting a reduced number of people into football stadiums – large, open, outdoor spaces – is being blocked.
As the graphic above shows, and as Cevik says in her thread: “Contact tracing studies suggest an almost 20x higher risk of transmission indoors compared with outdoor environments.”
Of course, some will rightly argue that the risk of getting fans to games might lie more in the fact that large numbers of people would travel long distances on public transport in order to attend matches, rather than from being seated at a safe distance once they get inside the ground.
In which case, how about we fix two problems in one here, and limit ticket sales to those living locally for the duration of the pandemic? No away fans, just those from near enough so that they don’t have to travel from one end of the country to another, or even get onto a packed tube.
For too long now, local fans have been priced out of attending games, with football clubs often chasing the money of wealthier fans from abroad. While it’s obviously great that football is a global game and we would hope that continues once the current crisis is over, it would be a refreshing temporary change to allow more fans who live locally to support the team that they may have grown distant from.
Fans are the lifeblood of this game, and football clubs can be hugely important to our communities. While the COVID-19 pandemic presents us all with huge challenges, there may be an opportunity here to reset the priorities of football clubs and get local economies thriving again.
Instead of blanket bans on people attending games, a bit of imagination from those in charge could surely see at least small crowds return sooner rather than later.
It won’t be the huge roaring atmosphere that we’ve grown to love, but it would be a start, and it could give local people the chance to form, or rediscover, a connection with their local team that has been overlooked for too long.