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The ticket allocation for this season's Premiership final has been slashed, with only 10,000 fans now able to attend the game at Twickenham on June 26 after the government rejected an application by Premiership Rugby for the final to be a pilot test event.
Premiership Rugby is understood to be extremely disappointed with the government's decision, having hoped to have a socially distanced crowd of around 20,000 at Twickenham for the final, which has a capacity of 82,000. Other sporting occasions set to be used as pilot events this summer with crowds of more than 10,000 include Wimbledon, the climax of football’s European Championship and the British Grand Prix.
Telegraph Sport understands that part of the government's reasoning behind rejecting the pilot test event application was the timing of the Premiership final, with the government not wanting to hold any pilot test events before June 28. The Premiership final takes place two days beforehand on June 26. The England football team's Euro 2020 matches at Wembley are notably exempt from the 10,000 restriction, with 22,500 attending Friday's match between England and Scotland.
The 10,000 tickets previously sold for the Premiership final are now being refunded, and will then be resold by the two Premiership clubs who win their semi-finals on Saturday to their supporters. Bristol face Harlequins and Exeter host Sale on Saturday afternoon, with tickets for the final then expected to go on sale on Sunday or Monday.
Of the 10,000 ticket allocation, 500 tickets have already been allocated to emergency health workers, while another 500 will go to children who are part of Premiership Rugby's 'Project Rugby' community program. That leaves 9,000 tickets for supporters from the two Premiership clubs who make it through to next Saturday's final.
England's Test matches against the USA and Canada are also likely to be affected, with both matches unlikely to also be granted pilot test event status and with only 10,000 spectators in attendance next month.
Premiership Rugby's Chief Commercial Officer Mark Brittain said: "The safety of everyone attending the Final is our priority, but it is frustrating that we weren’t selected on that list of events that can be part of the pilot programme.
"We could have welcomed 20,000 socially-distance supporters safely to Twickenham for an unforgettable day out to watch the crowning of the champions England. We have seen that snatched away from us.
"For the fans, all the people who have worked tirelessly behind the scenes and most importantly the clubs and players this is a huge blow. We have continued to push, but along with many other sporting and non-sporting events we have been let down.
"Regardless of this setback we are committed to providing a fantastic final to those lucky enough to attend and to create a fantastic event for fans to experience on BT Sport.”
A DCMS spokesperson said: "We fully understand that not being able to progress to step four on June 21 is challenging for sports and deeply disappointing for fans.
"But as the Prime Minister has always said, our roadmap is cautious and irreversible but we can only take this step once the four tests have been met.
"We are continuing to test a range of events with bigger capacities as part of the Government's Events Research Programme in order to get all fans back in safely, and have provided unprecedented help to sports needing support without spectators including £133.5 million to rugby union."
Analysis: 'Rugby has every right to be angry'
By Mick Cleary
It's as if the government were a grizzly French forward planting an uppercut firmly on the chin of rugby HQ at Twickenham.
Certainly, Premiership powerbrokers have been left reeling by the decision to limit next week's final to 10,000, a late rebuff to expectations which leaves original ticket-holders in need of a refund with a scramble under way for places for those clubs that do get through to the supposedly showpiece final.
It is an ill-fitting, ill-conceived end to a season in which so many have toiled and sacrificed. It is a smack in the chops that would merit a disciplinary inquiry if this were an on-field indiscretion. Instead the government can merely shrug, its well-practised buck-passing response to so many of these Covid-related complaints.
Of course, there are more serious charges on which it should be arraigned. But rugby has every reason to wonder what on earth it has done wrong to merit such an unsympathetic hearing.
Wembley has had 22,500 through its gates and is moving towards 50 per cent capacity for the closing stages of Euro 2020. Wimbledon is looking forward to a full Centre Court for the final week of the Championships with no need for social distancing in the inner sanctum.
The Grand Prix in mid-July is trimming the grass on those Silverstone car parks to welcome thousand upon thousands of petrol-heads. The list of approved pilot events goes on and on with rugby left forlorn, and at the very least, rueful.
The sport has every right to be angered. For these are not only straitened times for the business itself, they are an important pick-me-up period for fans the length and breadth of the country.
They have abided by the rule book for so long and in good faith, locking down, keeping apart, getting vaccinated and, just when they might hope to embrace a bit of freedom in the Twickenham stands, that glimmer of possible bright light is dimmed.
There are unlikely to be protracted howls of anguish from the Twickenham corridors of power because they know only too well that they will have to deal with these government mandarins again, as they did when gratefully receiving £135million in loans and grants from the Winter Sports Survival Package last November. The government giveth with one hand and taketh away with the other.
You might reflect, too, on the snaking queues seen round Twickenham recently as the vaccination programme was ramped up and the broad-acre facility there willingly given over to help with the push towards opening-up normality. It’s a neat counter-point to Friday’s gut-wrenching news about the 10,000 limit, that 11,000 were actually vaccinated on Bank Holiday Monday. There seemed to be no qualms that day about the size of audience in attendance.
England had hoped to see a decent 20,000 crowd, maybe even 40,000 for their upcoming games against the USA on July 4 and Canada six days later.
Sadly, the season is being forced to go out with a whimper.