FA Cup final among pilot events for return of fans to British sport

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FA Community Shield - Arsenal v Liverpool

(Reuters) - The FA Cup final at London's Wembley Stadium and the World Snooker Championship at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield are among a group of events being lined up as pilots to pave the way for the return of large crowds to stadiums this summer.

The British government last month set out a four-stage plan for easing England's COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.

The pilots, which are part of the Events Research Programme (ERP), will inform government decisions on stage four, which will begin no earlier than June 21, when it is hoped that limits on social contact and restrictions on large events can be removed.

London, Liverpool and Sheffield are the cities that will take part in the pilot programme, with tests across a range of sporting and cultural venues.

Decisions on the number of spectators allowed are yet to be taken, but the FA Cup final on May 15 could welcome more than the 10,000 that are set to be allowed into large outdoor venues from May 17 under the third stage of the plan.

"These test events will be crucial in finding ways to get fans and audiences back in safely without social distancing," Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said in a statement.

"We want to get the people back to enjoying what they love... These are important steps towards the safe and special summer we all crave."

ERP will look at risk factors in indoor and outdoor settings, small and large venues, seated and standing events, as well as transport issues and the duration of events.

A number of pilot events will include spectators and fans not socially distanced, with their movements and interactions monitored.

Spectators will not be allowed into venues unless they have had a negative COVID-19 test beforehand and they will also be tested afterwards.

(Reporting by Arvind Sriram in Bengaluru; Editing by Hugh Lawson)