The planned return of spectators to sports venues in England from October 1 could be on hold for six months due to fears over a second wave of coronavirus infections.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a range of restrictions in the House of Commons on Tuesday lunchtime, including those related to mass gatherings.
“We have to acknowledge that the spread of the virus is now affecting our ability to reopen business conferences, exhibitions and large sporting events,” he said.
He said the measures being announced on Tuesday would remain in place for “perhaps six months”.
“So we will not be able to do this from October 1 and I recognise the implications for our sports clubs which are the life and soul of our communities, and my right honourable friends the Chancellor and the Culture Secretary are working urgently on what we can do now to support them.”
Spectators had been set to return from the start of next month on a socially distanced basis, with capacities set to be limited to between 25 and 35 per cent.
The news is a devastating blow to sports clubs across the country, many of whom rely heavily on match-day revenue for survival, and there have already been calls from sports governing bodies for the government to provide emergency funding.
The English Football League has estimated its clubs will lose a collective £200million without fans in stadiums for the whole of the 2020-21 season.
The Premier League, meanwhile, warned of the “devastating impact” the continued absence of supporters was beginning to have on its clubs and communities.
“Football is not the same without attending fans and the football economy is unsustainable without them,” the league said in a statement.
“Last season, Premier League clubs suffered £700m in losses and at present, our national game is losing more than £100m per month. This is starting to have a devastating impact on clubs and their communities.
“We are confident that Premier League clubs, using innovative ways to get supporters safely back into grounds, will enable revenues to return to all levels of the game, as well as maintain solidarity arrangements, current tax contributions and financial support for local and national economies.”
The league said it would continue to work with government on getting spectators back into grounds as soon as it was safe to do so.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport confirmed all pilot events scheduled for September – where capacities were capped at 1,000 regardless of venue size – had now been cancelled and the events would take place behind closed doors.
It is understood Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden will meet with leaders from a range of sports on Tuesday afternoon and, while the discussions will move at a fast pace, no conclusions are set to be reached in terms of emergency funding today.
The government is understood to remain of the view that the Premier League and the EFL should support each other, but is open to the idea of identifying where there is critical need in the sports sector and offering financial support.
The Prime Minister said Dowden was working “flat out” to find a way to keep clubs going, in response to a question in the House of Commons from former sports minister Tracey Crouch about the “perilous” position the sector was in.
The Football Supporters’ Association said it was “crucial” to the survival of clubs to get spectators back into grounds as soon as it was safe to do so.
Kevin Miles, chief executive of the FSA, said: “We have written to the government to stress how important it is that we start to allow fans back into games.
“Feedback from our members at test events has confirmed high levels of compliance with all the health and safety measures put in place, and that they felt safer at games than they have done in many other social situations.
“Having fans at games is of course not only important to the lives of supporters, it is also crucial to the survival of so many clubs who play a crucial role within their communities. A combination of revenue at the ground and government support is urgently needed to keep clubs going. The government has to listen to fans and football clubs on this one.”