Oliver Dowden hopes a large crowd can attend Euro 2020 final at Wembley
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden is hopeful a large crowd will be able to attend the Euro 2020 final at Wembley but capacity is still to be determined.
The showpiece match of the delayed tournament is due to take place at the national stadium on July 11, almost three weeks after it is hoped remaining lockdown restrictions in England will have been lifted.
Yet that is no guarantee that sporting stadia and arenas will be able to operate at full capacity, with further restrictions still possible.
The roadmap out of lockdown in England allowed grassroots outdoor sport to resume on Monday. The third step of the easing of restrictions on May 17 at the earliest would allow stadia to open with a 25 per cent capacity limit, up to a maximum of 10,000 spectators. The current plan is then for all restrictions on social contact to be lifted on June 21.
Wembley is hosting seven Euro 2020 matches, including both semi-finals on July 6 and 7 and the final on July 11.
“The first major step, all being well, is ‘stage three’ from May 17. People will be back in stadiums, socially distanced, subject to caps.
“Beyond that, if we continue to stick the course, we are hoping to further ease restrictions and get them back to a level where they can operate commercially viably – so a significant increase in numbers.
“For the (Euro) games before June 21, clearly they’ll be subject to some restrictions. After June 21, including the Euro final, I hope to get as many people in as we can – and significantly more than that – but only if we can do so in a safe way.”
The aim is to get as many people back, and as safely as we can, from June 21.
The easing of restrictions is dependent on the continued success of the coronavirus vaccine rollout and further reductions in infection rates. Capacities at sporting events will also be determined by the success of a number of pilot events taking place from mid-April.
These will include the World Snooker Championship, an FA Cup semi-final and final but a full list of pilot events is yet to be published.
Dowden said: “They will look at all the different factors associated with hosting events like that, so the journey of people two and from the stadiums, the testing of people before and after to see where the spread risk is, behaviour and ventilation and so on.
“The aim is to get as many people back, and as safely as we can, from June 21.”
One of the FA Cup semi-finals will serve as a test event for up to 4,000 spectators, made up of local residents and NHS workers, and it is understood the following weekend the Carabao Cup final could test an attendance of double that. There is the possibility of a small number of fans being among the 8,000 crowd.
The ambition for the FA Cup final is to welcome 20,000 spectators into Wembley.
Rugby league is also due to host one of its blue riband events at Wembley with the Challenge Cup final on July 17.
Ralph Rimmer, chief executive of the Rugby Football League, hopes the stadium will be at least half-full.
He said: “We would like to think it would be 50 per cent, up and around that. Clearly everything is governed by the R rate.
“I know how much enthusiasm there is to get crowds back. We’ve been speaking to the Secretary of State and he’s talked quite openly of the importance of getting people to those events.”
Dowden and Rimmer were speaking at an event in Warrington where the year eight girls rugby league team from the town’s Cardinal Newman High School were among the first to return to sporting activity.
Other facilities such as football and cricket pitches, tennis and basketball courts, outdoor swimming pools and golf courses are now permitted to reopen.
Some even opened at a minute past midnight. Neon golf balls were used at the Morley Hayes Golf course in Ilkeston, for example, so players were able to tee off seconds after the ban was lifted.
“We always promised grassroots sports would be in the last in and first out and I am delighted that grassroots sports are resuming today,” said Dowden.
“Slowly but surely, just like the grass is creeping up again, national life is starting to return.
“That is absolutely essential but it is essential that we make sure this is permanent. To make sure this is permanent we have to stick by the rules to make sure we don’t have another surge.”
Following the easing of restrictions, the Government is advising children to get at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day, with adults advised to take at least 150 minutes a week.
Youth sport is a top priority in the roadmap and last week the Government announced £100million has now been allocated to 266 local authorities across England to support the recovery of publicly-owned leisure centres and gyms.
Grassroots sports and the physical activity sector are also benefiting from £270million in emergency funding delivered by Sport England.
World Cup-winning England cricket captain Eoin Morgan is backing the Government’s #returntoplay campaign to get people active again.
Morgan said: “With summer – and the cricket season – just around the corner, there’s no better time for everyone, young and old, to get back to having fun by getting outdoors, being active and playing sport.”