What does the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown mean for the major sports events this year?
Sport can begin to plan for the return of fans in the coming months under the ‘road map’ for easing lockdown restrictions, announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday.
Here, The News takes a look at how the news will affect the major sports in England.
The target of May 17 for allowing at least some fans back into stadiums comes a week before the final day of the Premier League of May 23 – great news for the 10 clubs due to be at home, although others must hope to host test events the previous weekend. The FA Cup final is slated for May 15 and the Championship, League One and League Two seasons wrap up on May 9, but fans could be back for the play-off finals at the end of the month. The Carabao Cup final was moved from February to April in the hope of welcoming fans but still comes too soon. The target of June 21 to lift all restrictions comes midway through the rearranged Euro 2020 finals, and the day before England are due to face the Czech Republic at Wembley. The national stadium is due to host the final of the tournament on July 11.
No date has yet been given for the Wembley finals of the FA Trophy and FA Vase for non-league clubs - US Portsmouth and Fareham Town remain in the latter competition. No date has either been given for the 2019/20 finals in those two tournaments, but the FA could stage both Trophy and/or Vase finals over the same weekend.
The FA Cup final is scheduled for May 15 and the play-offs for May 29-31, with the first Euro 2020 game at the national stadium on June 13.
That leaves the weekends of May 8/9 and May 22/23 free for the Trophy and Vase finals.
England begin a two-Test series against New Zealand on June 2 and will now hope to have a number of fans at both Lord’s and Edgbaston. The stands could then be full when they begin a white-ball series against Sri Lanka, with a T20 international at Hampshire’s Ageas Bowl on Saturday, June 26.
Hampshire’s opening six Championship games - which start at Leicestershire on April 8 - will be played behind closed doors but spectators will be able to attend the seventh, a home game with Leicestershire at The Ageas Bowl starting on May 20.
The target of March 29 for grassroots sport is also good news for the game at local level. An ECB statement read: ‘The ECB welcomes the Government’s decision to permit grassroots cricket to return across England in time for the start of the 2021 season. We will continue to work closely with the Welsh Government on the return of recreational cricket in Wales.’
The Southern Premier Cricket League and the Hampshire Cricket League are both due to start in early May.
Clubs could welcome fans for the final rounds of the Premiership season, which concludes on June 12, although it is much too late for the PRO14 campaign. The British & Irish Lions are due to host Japan at Murrayfield on June 26 – a warm-up for their tour of South Africa, although the status of that trip remains in doubt. Meanwhile, the RFU has welcomed the return of the game at grassroots level from the end of the March. Clubs like Havant and Portsmouth have not played a competitive game since early March 2020.
Rugby League’s summer season should mean fans are on hand for much of the campaign, with seasons starting at various levels between March and May. Stadiums should be full for the highlights of the Challenge Cup final at Wembley in July and the Super League Grand Finals at Old Trafford in October.
The target of June 21 for all restrictions to be lifted could hardly be better timed for Wimbledon, due to begin a week later on June 28. This staple of the British sporting summer was cancelled entirely last year but could now be one of the symbols of a return to normality in the months ahead. The LTA also welcomed the return of the sport at grassroots level but continued to argue for an earlier date. ‘Clearly tennis is a naturally socially-distanced and safe activity and so we would have liked restrictions to be lifted without delay and made the case for this,’ a statement read.
The easing of restrictions will come too soon for the British Masters in mid-May, but fans can look forward to attending the Open Championship at Royal St George in July. The main news for most, of course, is when they might hit the course themselves, but Monday’s announcement was not what England Golf was hoping for. ‘England Golf is extremely disappointed that the scientific evidence presented to Government detailing how the sport can be played in a Covid-secure manner has not resulted in a return to play date earlier than 29 March,’ a statement read.