English football authorities have issued a joint open letter promising fans a “safe return to football grounds as soon as possible”.
The letter, signed by the heads of the FA, Premier League, EFL, WSL and Women's Championship, said attending football matches would “play a positive role in people’s lives during these challenging times” and could be made “as safe as, if not safer than, any other public activity currently allowed”.
Plans had been in place for a staged return of fans to begin this month, with elite competitive football having been played behind-closed-doors in England since it returned from the coronavirus shutdown.
Some test events had already been held, in football and beyond, but the Government called a halt amid a surge in coronavirus cases last month, warning that the new increase in restrictions could last six months.
Such a delay would have huge financial repercussions for the game at all levels, and, while praising the role fans have played even in their absence, the coalition insisted a swifter return can be achieved.
The letter said: “The health of the nation remains our overriding priority, and for many months we have been working with experts to make our grounds as safe as, if not safer than, any other public activity currently allowed. And we are consulting with the Football Supporters’ Association to keep supporters updated every step of the way.
“Even when you have been unable to get together, you and your clubs have found ways to make a difference in your communities, with clubs delivering food parcels, taking part in phone calls and online conversations with fans, the elderly and vulnerable and moving services and programmes online to make a difference in unprecedented and challenging circumstances.
“But we all know football is not the same without fans. Every player and manager is missing the direct connection with you and the impact that you have on our games.
“With the EFL, Premier League, Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship already staging 11 successful test events recently, we have demonstrated that we can deliver matches safely. The sooner we can return, the sooner we can reunite communities and support local jobs, livelihoods, regional businesses and also the national economy.”
The letter added that it was “positive progress that major arts and music venues have been told they can run socially-distance events indoors” but called for “consistency in their policy so sport is treated as fairly as other activities”.
Many of the concerns around fans returning revolve around the difficulty in maintain social distancing in areas outside of clubs’ control, for example on public transport to stadiums, but the letter also moved to address those concerns.
“From a travel perspective, clubs will work closely with experts and local authorities to model solutions relevant for each stadium to ease pressure on public transport, while extra parking facilities could be available so a greater proportion of you can travel by private car or bicycle.”
“We are determined to identify a path forward with Government. We need clarity for our clubs and for you as supporters as to what the roadmap for change in this area looks like. We all know why caution is needed, and we ask Government for consistency in their policy so sport is treated as fairly as other activities currently allowed to welcome spectators.
So, we will continue to urge the relevant authorities to let us, together, use innovative ways to bring fans safely back into football grounds, starting with a return of the test event programme. If we do so, then the benefits will be felt not just by fans but throughout society and the economy.”