Sport

UK sport bodies back use of ‘vaccine passports’ to allow return of capacity crowds

UK sport bodies back use of 'vaccine passports' to allow return of capacity crowds thumbnail
Socially distanced fans returned in limited numbers to stadia in tier one and two areas in December in England

The UK’s leading sports bodies are backing the use of ‘vaccine passports’ and Covid testing as a “credible” means of allowing full capacities at venues.

In a joint letter to the leaders of the major political parties, the group said it could “see the benefit” of a certification process “in getting more fans safely back as quickly as possible”.

“We know that our stadia can only be fully filled with an assurance process,” it added.

However the group also warned that “the final approach must not be discriminatory, should protect privacy, and have clear exit criteria.”

Signatories to the letter, which has been seen by the BBC, include the Football Association, the Premier League, the England and Wales Cricket Board, the Rugby Football Union, the All England Tennis Club at Wimbledon and the Silverstone motor-racing circuit.

All of them are are suffering an unprecedented financial crisis as a result of being forced to stage events behind closed doors for almost all of the past year.

As part of the government’s reopening roadmap, from 17 May in England larger outdoor sports venues will be allowed to operate at up to 25% capacity, with a maximum of 10,000 spectators.

Restrictions will be eased further from 21 June, but with all adults not expected to be offered at least their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine until the end of July, full venues at major sports events are understood to be unlikely until late summer at the earliest.

Wembley will only have a maximum of 50% capacity for the latter stages of the Euro 2020 matches in July.

Under current plans in Scotland, large-scale events could also resume from 17 May, though the Euro 2020 matches at Hampden in June that could see 12,000 supporters attend are the first confirmation of fans returning to stadia in Scotland.

The Welsh government hopes to put on a series of outdoor cultural and sporting pilot events in the summer, for between 200 and 1,000 people.

Supporters will not be able to return to matches in Northern Ireland until phase four of the Stormont executive’s lockdown exit plan, with no date yet set and the next review due on 15 April.

The extent to which all social distancing can end from 21 June to allow for larger crowds at sport, arts and hospitality venues is being examined by the Events Research Programme (ERP) at a number of forthcoming pilots, including a semi-final and the final of the FA Cup at Wembley.

Passes that would show if a person had been vaccinated, had a recent negative test, or natural immunity are among a number of measures to be trialled.

In their letter to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the leaders of the main opposition parties, the group of sports bodies – which also includes the English Football League, Lawn Tennis Association and the Rugby Football League – warn that the 25% cap on crowds “will be insufficient to end sport’s Covid financial crisis.”

They appeal for “certainty as soon as possible” over the plans to lift social distancing after 21 June, “so we can plan efficiently and effectively with many big sporting events scheduled for late June and onwards.

“There are many issues to be addressed including how [Covid certification] technology would work and its ease of use at major events, for both the attendees and the organisers,” the group added.

“This process must ensure that everyone can access stadia and must include arrangements that would verify a negative Covid test or an antibody test alongside vaccination certification.”

On Wednesday, EFL chief executive Trevor Birch said Covid passports “had to be embraced because without Covid certification, we may not be able to get full fans back in stadiums, which will have a dramatic financial effect.”

EFL clubs have suffered £250m of losses caused by more than a season with almost no fans at matches.

However, the use of such measures in wider society has sparked opposition from politicians and civil liberties campaigners, and some figures in sport have also expressed their concern before a parliamentary vote on the issue.

Former Wolves goalkeeper Carl Ikeme urged the FA not to use Covid passes, describing them as a “form of discrimination” against people from ethnic minorities.

“We know black and ethnic minorities are more hesitant to have vaccines,” Ikeme told the i newspaper.external-link

“It will create a bigger divide. I don’t believe communities who have their own personal choice not to have a vaccine should be discriminated against even further than they have been throughout the years.

“Having these Covid passes is either going to force people to have a jab they don’t want or is going to force people not to take part in society the way we’re all used to. Football players have been bending the knee all year against discrimination and this will affect ethnic communities even more.”

The group of sports bodies supporting certification say that “the final approach must not be discriminatory, should protect privacy… [and] should not be a requirement for any form of participation in grassroots sport.

“Based on these principles, we support the review of the use of Covid certification for major events,” it added.

A government spokesperson said: “We welcome the constructive approach from major British sports as we explore how testing Covid certification and other steps can help get more fans back into stadiums and other large events safely.

“We want as many fans as possible to be able to enjoy a great British summer of sport, safely.”

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