The final weekend of the Premier League season could see as many as 10,000 spectators at stadiums under the government’s new lockdown measures.
The news comes as part prime minister Boris Johnson’s latest roadmap for the easing of lockdown restrictions to limit the spread of coronavirus, which was announced in the House of Commons on Monday afternoon.
English stadiums with 40,000 seat capacity will be allowed 10,000 fans and smaller ones will be allowed to be at 25 per cent capacity from 17 May at the earliest.
The final weekend of the 2020/21 Premier League season is scheduled for 23 May.
The announcement also leaves open the possibility of spectators returning to events over the summer, such as Euro 2020, Wimbledon, cricket internationals and county matches, depending on whether the conditions for easing restrictions have been met by 17 May.
Indoor events will be capped at 50 per cent capacity or 1,000, whichever is lower, and for outdoor events this will be 50 per cent capacity or 4,000, whichever is lower.
The roadmap includes special provision for large, outdoor, seated venues where crowds can be safely distributed, allowing up to 10,000 people or 25 per cent of total seated capacity, whichever is lower.
Pilots will also run to examine how such events can take place without the need for social distancing using other mitigations such as testing, the Government said.
The Football Association have welcomed the move.
“The FA is absolutely delighted that fans will be allowed back soon”, the governing body said in a statement. “The game is simply not the same without them and we look forward to the return of full stadia as soon as it is safe and possible”.
The EFL added their own statement confirming that the Carabao Cup in April could be one of the pilot events.
“As has been our approach throughout the pandemic, the EFL wants to see supporters back in our stadia as soon as it is safe to do so and we will continue to work with clubs, DCMS, the SGSA and local authorities to this end,” it read.
“Following a successful fan pilot programme in the autumn, the EFL and member clubs have shown test events for fans can be safely delivered with the appropriate measures in place.
“With the Carabao Cup final taking place on 25 April and the culmination of the regular EFL season on 8 May and 9, we look forward to engaging with the Government about its pilot programme and will be working to welcome as many fans as possible to the Sky Bet play-off finals which will conclude the 2020-21 season on the Spring Bank Holiday weekend.”
The roadmap set out the lifting of restrictions in four steps. At each one, the success of the vaccine rollout, vaccine efficacy, the presence of variants and infection rates will be measured before deciding whether to take the next step.
The prime minister said there would be a minimum five-week gap between each step.
The easing of restrictions will happen on a nationwide, rather than a regional, basis.
In the second part of step one – not before 29 March – organised outdoor sports for children and adults can return, and outdoor sports facilities such as tennis and basketball courts can reopen.
At step two, which would be from 12 April at the earliest, use of indoor leisure facilities such as gyms for individuals or household groups will be possible.
All children will be able to attend any indoor children’s activity in step two, including sport, regardless of circumstance, the Government’s road map documents said.
Alongside the partial reopening of sports venues at step three, organised indoor adult sport will be possible.
Pilot events for the return of spectators are expected to begin as part of the Government’s Event Research Programme from April.
These will use “enhanced testing approaches and other measures to run events with larger crowd sizes and reduced social distancing to evaluate the outcomes”.
Findings from pilots across the sport and cultural sectors will be brought together to develop a “consistent approach” to removing capacity limits as part of step four – which would start no earlier than 21 June.
Additional reporting by PA