Top UK sports leagues and governing bodies have backed the use of Covid-19 certificates to enable fans to return to stadiums without the need for social distancing, in a bid to ease their financial crises.
The sports bodies, including the English Premier League, the Lawn Tennis Association, the Rugby Football Union and the England and Wales Cricket Board, backed the government’s review into whether such certificates could be used to open up the economy and reduce limits on social contact.
In a letter to party leaders in Westminster, including prime minister Boris Johnson and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, the sports bodies advocated, as well as vaccination certificates, technology to verify tests for the virus or for antibodies that suggest people are more resistant to infection.
The return of fans is crucial to sports that have gone more than a year without being able to profit from ticket sales, hitting a vital source of revenue. As a result, the government has disbursed two survival packages worth £600m, benefiting rugby, cricket, horseracing and tennis, but largely excluding football, in order to see them through the pandemic.
The Premier League, bolstered by multibillion-pound broadcasting contracts, has been able to weather the blow better than other sports, which rely more on ticket revenues as they lack football’s global fan base.
The government intends to allow fans to return to stadiums in small numbers from May 17. As part of its preparations for this it is allowing fans into a few events over the next month, including the snooker world championship in Sheffield and football’s FA Cup final at Wembley.
However, the organisations warned that this “will still be insufficient to end sport’s Covid financial crisis” because of social distancing requirements capping attendance at up to 25 per cent of a larger stadium’s capacity.
Under the government’s plans, the economy is reopening in stages, with the final set of social restrictions intended to lift from June 21. The sports bodies said they were working with the government’s events research programme “to swiftly return to full capacities” from that date.
However, the sports bodies cautioned that there were “many issues to be addressed” regarding the use of the technology to verify fans’ Covid-19 status, including how it would work, and its “ease of use at major events”.
In the letter, they also said that the “final approach must not be discriminatory, should protect privacy, and have clear exit criteria”. They warned against requiring such certificates for members of the public to participate in grassroots sport.
“We welcome the constructive approach from major British sports as we explore how testing Covid certification and other steps can help get more fans back into stadiums and other large events safely,” the government said.
The letter was also signed by the English Football League, which runs the three professional divisions below the Premier League, the Football Association, which governs the sport in England, and the Scottish Professional Football League.
Other backers include the Rugby Football League, a version of the game popular in northern England, and Silverstone Circuit, which hosts the British Grand Prix Formula One race.