Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has issued a plea to the government to reconsider their recent decision on delaying the return of football fans to stadiums.
The coronavirus pandemic saw football suspended back in March, and though it was able to resume in the summer, games have been played behind closed doors and look likely to continue this way for at least a few more months.
However, some European leagues have been able to allow spectators in, albeit not at full capacity, to allow for social distancing between supporters present.
Of course, some countries have the pandemic under better control than the UK has at the moment, which makes a big difference, but Masters says there is surely a way to make the return of fans possible as long as it’s done safely.
In fairness, it does seem strange that people can continue to crowd into packed indoor settings like pubs, restaurants and public transport, when a spacious outdoor setting like a football stadium could in theory be a lot safer.
Masters hopes the government can do more to help football as he feels they’ve made more of an effort with other industries.
“It’s good news that [concert] venues can run socially-distanced events indoors, it gives them a lifeline. We are starting to see the return of the paying spectator at a ticketed event and we just believe that football should be allowed to do the same,” Masters told the Times.
“We do understand why caution is needed but what we are asking for is consistency from government so that sport is treated as fairly as other activities.
“We are a highly regulated environment. We have the Sports Grounds Safety Authority in place to ensure that supporters are safe at all times and we’re outdoors in a highly stewarded environment. What we really need is clarity for our clubs and supporters and a road map from government.
“There’s a frustration that there is that inconsistency and we would urge the government to treat sport in the same way as the entertainment industry.
“The clubs feel they have been hit with a quadruple whammy — firstly that the optimism of October 1 has been taken away; secondly that there will be a sports bailout but that it wouldn’t include football; thirdly that the Premier League will be expected to secure the future of the EFL while dealing with the implications of having no fans until possibly March; finally the opening up of entertainment arenas within sometimes a couple of miles of football grounds without any road map for the return of football supporters.
“The government is managing the country around local conditions so we have to be flexible in that respect. We have been in regular conversation with our German counterparts and we are aware of how it’s working and how it is not working for some clubs where the numbers are higher.
“Like everything, you have to start somewhere and just to do it would be fantastic. Football needs its voice back, we need fans back in the stadiums to provide that missing ingredient. Having fans back, even if it is not exclusively across the league, has given German football a massive boost.”
Of course, as well as the matter of fans gathering at football grounds, there’s the issue of large numbers using public transport to get to games, but Masters insists clubs are also making preparations to deal with this.
“Clubs are working with experts and local authorities to ensure that the impact on the transport system is properly managed,” he added.