The electrifying atmosphere filled with chants and uplifting vibes is what makes live football matches a treat to watch. Sadly, ever since the UK has been hit by COVID-19, all football matches have been held under close doors much to the dismay of EPL fans.
The EPL has also taken a financial hit of almost £1 billion (S$1.76 billion) as a result of empty stadiums and reduced commercial contracts. Not all hopes are lost fortunately as there will be changes in the coming 2020 – 2021 season.
Thankfully, things are set to improve in the upcoming season. Even though matches will no longer be held behind closed doors, the entire 2020 – 2021 season will be played in reduced capacity stadiums and crowd sizes. However, a senior UK government health official has warned that these could be further affected if chanting is proven to increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Crowds are returning to sporting events in England, which include a cricket friendly at The Oval and the World Snooker Championship happening the week after. Professor James Calder, who chaired the cross-sport working group with the UK government and health officials on the return to sport, has told BBC Sport that sports events are highly unlikely to have full capacity crowds this year.
He shared that he would be very surprised to see a full-capacity stadium back this year. Only with a vaccine and a high take-up rate of that vaccine would make the stadiums brimming with die-hard fans once again. He was, however, open to the possibilities of teams playing in front of reduced crowd size.
Professor Calder has collaborated with various sporting bodies on the different phases of protocols that enable a return to sporting events from lockdown a possibility. He has since lauded the teams’ collaborative effort which resulted in an earlier than expected resumption of sporting events.
He also revealed that experiments are currently underway to determine if droplet spread is increased by chanting and singing — a staple in EPL matches, and therefore a greater risk of coronavirus transmission.
“We need to know, actually, does it matter if you’re shouting, how far will those droplets spread?” he said.
“At a football or a rugby match, the fans are going to be shouting and chanting and singing, I hope, and we need to be sure that the people in front of them are as safe as possible.”
“Now if there is no massive droplet spread, well OK, we can keep within the social distancing that we’ve put down for, say, the Crucible and The Oval. But if it is a problem, then we need to rethink the social distancing within the stadium, and that becomes very difficult,” he elaborates further.
That being said, Professor Calder believed more information is needed before we see smaller crowds where chanting is common, such as football and rugby matches.
He also pointed out that it would be easier to see women’s sport bounce back faster to nearer a normal capacity than men’s football because venues are not often sold out.
“We can actually promote these sports far more easily and actually get a fanbase going, so I think it’s an opportunity for sports to change the way they are looking at things.” he continued.
Most recently, Surrey’s two-day friendly against Middlesex at the Oval garnered 1,000 attendees while the same number will be able to watch the second day of Warwickshire’s pre-season derby with Worcestershire on Tuesday.
There are more trials scheduled for this weekend when the ECB’s four-day Bob Willis Trophy begins with 2,500 spectators allowed to attend each day at The Oval and Edgbaston.