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Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has sounded a note of caution around the return of supporters to sports venues.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out his ‘road map’ for the easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions in England on Monday, with fans set to be able to return on a limited basis from May 17 at the earliest.
That would be just in time, potentially, for up to 10,000 City fans to see the club lift the Premier League trophy in their final match against Everton on May 23 if they hold on to their lead at the top.
Guardiola welcomed the news, but rightly pointed out that there have been a number of setbacks in the pandemic already.
“It will be good for the world of football, but everything changes a lot and it’s getting better, but it can get worse,” he said ahead of his side’s Champions League last-16 match against Borussia Monchengladbach.
“We have to be so calm to be sure that it’s going to happen. Hopefully, for world football, the stadiums can be full again and people can come back to enjoy this game. But still, I have the feeling we have a long way to go until this situation is finished.”
As early as May 17, it is understood outdoor venues with a seated capacity of at least 16,000 will be able to admit spectators up to 25 per cent capacity or a maximum of 10,000, whichever is lower. The Government’s road map on Monday did not specify the minimum seated capacity.
Smaller outdoor venues will be capped at 50 per cent capacity or 4,000, whichever is lowest, whilst indoor venues will be capped at 50 per capacity or 1,000 people, whichever is lowest.
Depending on how the country is performing against the four tests – vaccine rollout, vaccine efficacy, the impact of variant strains and infection rates – a pilot programme will resume in April.
The hope is that these can test out a variety of innovations – such as rapid testing – to enable capacities to be scaled up even higher from June 21 ahead of big sporting summer events in England.
It is understood the Premier League is now engaged in discussions with its clubs and Government over its involvement in the pilots following the publication of the road map.
Brighton, who staged a pilot event when they hosted Chelsea in a pre-season friendly last summer, are understood to be keen to work with the league and the Government on being involved in the new pilot programme.
Questions have already been raised over the impact that letting crowds in for the final day would have on integrity, something the league takes extremely seriously as the simultaneous kick-off times attest to.
The pandemic continues to have an impact on the scheduling of sport, with European football’s governing body announcing the cancellation of the men’s and women’s European Under-19 Championships this summer, which were due to be played in Romania and Belarus respectively.
The EFL reported five positive cases from 5,669 tests carried out on players and staff last week, with all but three of 72 clubs reporting zero positive cases.