As Covid-19 restrictions move ever nearer to being lifted, we have seen the slow return to normality within sport, with crowds being welcomed bit-by-bit to events already and capacity attendances set to become more normal once again after 19 July.
This weekend sees the British Grand Prix take place at Silverstone, featuring the all-new F1 Sprint on the Saturday. The famous circuit is set to welcome 140,000 spectators across the weekend as part of the UK Government’s Event Research Programme (ERP), which is overseeing a range of pilots testing the return of fans.
The Grand Prix crowd will be the biggest the UK has seen since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, but here’s how other sports have gradually brought spectators back to their events over the past few months.
In December 2020, crowds of up to 2,000 were allowed in football stadiums if the region was in tier 1 of Covid-19 restrictions. It did not last long as, by the end of the month, the country was once again plunged into another lockdown.
The Carabao Cup final was used as a pilot event in April 2021 as Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City each had 2,000 fans in attendance at Wembley Stadium.
Following the May 17 lifting of restrictions, stadiums were allowed to welcome up to 10,000 supporters (home fans only) for the final two rounds of the Premier League, while the FA Cup final between Chelsea and Leicester City welcomed 20,000 spectators to give the UK a glimpse of what we could expect when football returned to normal.
Wembley welcomed 22,500 supporters for England’s opening Euro 2020 group stage match against Croatia and the same number attended the following games against Scotland and Czech Republic. The crowd increased to 41,000 for the two round of 16 clashes held under the arch and more than 60,000 fans were able to attend the two semi-finals and then the final between Italy and England.
The final will have featured more supporters as there were some hooligans who forced their way into the stadium without tickets and with no regard for the Covid guidelines and social distancing, which may well have caused a rise in cases. There were increased numbers of positive tests in Scotland following their fans’ trip to London during the group stage, which raised eyebrows regarding the plans to increase the crowd limit as the tournament progressed.
Ahead of the 2021-22 season, stadiums are to return to full capacity as it stands, but with the unpredictability of the virus that could yet change.
Following the May 17 lifting of restrictions, rugby league clubs were allowed to welcome fans back for the first time in 14 months at a rate of 4,000 supporters or half their full capacity, whichever was lower.
The biggest event for the sport in terms of the return of crowds will take place at Wembley on Saturday with the Betfred Challenge Cup final between St Helens and Castleford Tigers. There are set to be 45,000 fans in attendance for the sport’s most highly-anticipated day of the year.
There was a 25% capacity crowd at Queen’s earlier this summer as Brit Cameron Norrie reached the final. And Wimbledon was able to allow 50% capacity across the grounds from the beginning of the Championships which began on 28 June. As the tournament progressed the capacity was permitted to increase to 100%, with around 15,000 present in Centre Court for the finals weekend.
Royal Ascot was used as a pilot event for testing the return of large crowds earlier this year and the huge race event was able to welcome a daily crowd of 12,000 after having to be staged behind closed doors in 2020.
Test matches have been able to welcome back fans in 2021, with around 7,500 fans being present on each day of England’s First Test against New Zealand at Lord’s. The Second Test of the series was a pilot event, allowing 17,000 supporters to attend daily at Edgbaston.
A shadow was cast over the hopes of increasing cricket crowds when Edgbaston’s pitch was invaded by students in a match between the Birmingham Bears and Derbyshire. The students were drunk and disorderly and attended in fancy dress, failing to adhere to the guidelines set in place by going onto the playing surface and mingling against the spirit of social distancing.
As the British Open got underway this week, the tournament was allowed to welcome a daily crowd of 32,000 people, something that has been sorely missed this past year on courses across the country.
Snooker was the sport chosen to welcome back the first capacity crowd in the UK since the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, as the World Snooker Championship was able to welcome 980 spectators at the Crucible for the final between Mark Selby and Shaun Murphy.