#LetFansIn? Spectators Must Not Be Used As Lab Rats, Despite UK Sport Crisis

There is a push for crowds to return in some form, but now is far from the right time
12:00, 10 Oct 2020

It has been backed by football clubs from Manchester United to Concord Rangers, and reflects concerns across the entire sporting fraternity. The #LetFansIn movement continues to gain serious traction, as the petition set up to force its consideration in parliament has long since passed the 100,000-signature threshold.

But with ever-increasing local lockdowns taking place across the country due to the continued spike in Covid-19 cases, now feels like the worst time possible to start using spectators as lab rats by inviting them back into stadia.

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It is clear that sport in this country is in a very perilous position as things stand. Lower-league football clubs are in danger of going out of business, as are organisations and clubs alike in the top bracket of sports such as rugby league, cricket and more. There is a very real possibility that a breaking point will be reached if fans do not return to stadia soon, bringing with them the kind of revenue streams which remain the lifeblood for pretty much every level of UK sport beyond the Premier League. But what sport needs is more recognition for its role in the nation’s economy, rather than demands for it to look after itself.

There is, of course, also the mental health aspect of us being confined to our homes rather than partaking in the usual practices which give us our normal verve, the following of our sports teams being the most obvious example. Yet we have seen in other walks of life what the rushed return to something like normal can bring with it.

The ‘Eat Out To Help Out’ scheme looked to have been a great idea economically until it was found that the percentage of positive Covid tests started to rise at the same time that restaurants were becoming busier, with diners dropping their guard against the virus.

Medical studies have shown that the chances of infection decrease in open-air scenarios compared to indoor settings, theoretically backing the #LetFansIn movement, but who has ever gone to a football match and been able to get to the toilet and back in the 15-minute half-time break without having to squeeze past dozens upon dozens of people, none of whose hygiene routine you are familiar with.

Even in a more controlled setting with reduced capacities, there will be unavoidable breaches of social distancing in toilet blocks, on gangways and concourses, even on the more congested than usual public transport before and after matches.

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Many areas, including Greater Manchester, parts of Lancashire, Leicester, the Midlands and the North East remain subject to local lockdown conditions, with the government set to announce a tightening of the parameters nationwide on Monday as cases rise and colder weather bites. If you’ve got the NHS Track and Trace app and have ever seen anything other than a red pin at the top of the screen, indicating a high rate of infection in your area, count yourself lucky. But don’t think it makes you immune for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon.

When it comes to the current health crisis, caution is the better part of valour. And, much as every single one of us wants to get back into the stands, now is not the time to make crash test dummies of the nation’s sports fans.