FA Cup final to be used to test return of large crowds to venues

14 March 2021, 08:24 | Updated: 14 March 2021, 13:10

The FA Cup final at Wembley is the most high-profile event that will be used to rest the return of fans
The FA Cup final at Wembley is the most high-profile event that will be used to rest the return of fans. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

This year's FA Cup final and World Snooker Championship will be among roughly a dozen events used as pilots to test the return of spectators to venues.

Pilot programmes for sporting and cultural events were announced by the government when Boris Johnson set out his roadmap for easing coronavirus restrictions in February.

On Saturday, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) provided more detail, saying there will be "around a dozen" events from April that will serve as tests.

Decisions on capacities for the events have not yet been made but there is an expectation that the FA Cup final, set to take place on 15 May, will welcome back more than 10,000 people, which will be the limit for larger outdoor seated venues during step three of the roadmap on 17 May.

The pilots form part of the Events Research Programme (ERP) and will inform the government's decisions on step four of the roadmap, which will begin no earlier than 21 June, when it is hoped spectators will be able to get back safely and in large numbers.

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Fans were last at the FA Cup final in May 2019 to watch Manchester City beat Watford
Fans were last at the FA Cup final in May 2019 to watch Manchester City beat Watford. Picture: PA

They will test a range of sporting and cultural venues, from Wembley Stadium to a 200-capacity comedy club on the other.

Football matches in the Premier League and the English Football League (EFL) have not been ruled out of the pilots.

The EFL is understood to be keen on participating, with the Carabao Cup final between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur, also to be played at Wembley on 25 April, reportedly being considered.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: "These test events will be crucial in finding ways to get fans and audiences back in safely without social distancing.

"We will be guided by the science and medical experts, but will work flat out to make that happen. We want to get the people back to enjoying what they love and ensure some of our most important growth industries get back on their feet.

"These are important steps towards the safe and special summer we all crave and that I'm fully focused on delivering."

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The events will test a range of "non-pharmaceutical" methods to allow the safe return of fans without social distancing, including venue layout, face coverings and ventilation.

Researchers will monitor spectators' movements and interactions while the event is ongoing, the DCMS said.

Rapid testing before and after the event will be mandatory, but it has not yet been confirmed how close to the event a negative test would need to be provided to allow entry.

David Ross, the founder of Carphone Warehouse and the chair of the Sports Technology and Innovation Group (STIG), which oversaw pilot events last year, will be one of the co-advisers on the ERP.

A report from the ERP will go to the government for consideration before the end of May, the DCMS said.