It remains something of a mystery as to why we can sit inside a pub with people from five other households and yet we can’t enjoy a trip to watch a local football match or horse racing meeting outdoors.
Whether you agree with the government’s decision-making in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic is a truly individual matter, but one thing that is concrete fact is that both sports face a potentially devastating year ahead if spectators are not allowed to return to the stands.
Plans to get bums back on seats have been hit by the government’s revised Covid-19 protocol, with a timeline of October 1 to try a more comprehensive ‘return to sport’ for spectators seemingly an impossibility. Boris Johnson said:
“We must revise plans to pilot larger audiences in venues later this month and review our intention to return audiences to stadiums from 1 October.
“But that doesn’t mean we are going to scrap the programme entirely. We are just going to have to review it and abridge it.”
Meanwhile Oliver Dowden, whether deliberately or by a slip of the tongue, suggested that ‘having audiences back much closer to normal by Christmas’ is a more realistic option.
Sport’s Supermassive Black Hole
It is ‘absolutely critical’ that fans are allowed back inside stadiums soon – that’s the view of Premier League chief Richard Masters.
He said that had clubs had lost millions in revenue at the tailend of the 2019/20 season, and that they could expect losses in excess of £700 million if no gate receipts are made.
That wouldn’t be a disaster for the big boys – but lower down football’s pyramid and you can only imagine the decimation that may follow.
In Scotland, two scheduled test events – Ross County vs Celtic and Aberdeen vs Kilmarnock – will go ahead as planned on Saturday, with a few thousand fans allowed inside the stadiums with social distancing in place.
However, plans to get spectators back in full has now been put back from September 14 to October 5 at the earliest as the country battles its own second spike of the virus.
Meanwhile, racing is experiencing its own darkest hour with David Armstrong, head of the Racecourse Association, predicting a loss of more than £300 million for the sport if on-course spectators aren’t allowed to return soon.
The first day of the St Leger festival at Doncaster, which acted as a designated pilot for the return of fans, saw more than 2,500 punters purchase tickets, but the rest of the meeting was then closed to the public by local health officials as coronavirus cases in the town continued to increase above the seven-day moving average.
The estimated cost to Doncaster racecourse is thought to be £250,000, and with more than 50% of all income in the sport generated gate receipts and on-course betting there will be further ramifications to prize money – this is racing’s ongoing circle of misery that shows no sign of ending any time soon.