Return of fans to English stadiums on hold: UK PM

Socially distanced fans watch from the stands during the pre-season friendly football match between Brighton and Hove Albion and Chelsea.

AFP/ Glyn Kirk

LONDON - Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the planned phased return of spectators to sports venues in England was on hold due to a sharp rise in coronavirus cases.

A number of pilot test events, in which capacities have been capped at 1,000, have taken place and it was hoped venues would be allowed to welcome more spectators from the start of October.

But Johnson set out a range of tough new restrictions for England designed to limit the spread of Covid-19.

"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 told the House of Commons.

"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... the Chancellor and the Culture Secretary are working urgently on what we can do now to support them."

He said the measures being announced on Tuesday would remain in place for "perhaps six months".

It is a devastating blow to sports clubs, many of whom rely heavily on match-day revenue for survival, and there have already been calls from governing bodies for the government to provide emergency funding.

Professional sport, including the Premier League and Test cricket, has largely been played behind closed doors since it returned following the coronavirus shutdown earlier this year.

Pilot events in rugby union have been cancelled, with the matches now due to take place behind closed doors.

Premiership Rugby confirmed this affected the game between Bath and Gloucester on Tuesday and Bristol against Leicester next week.