Fans at Wimbledon and British Grand Prix if roadmap goes as planned, minister tells LBC

29 March 2021, 11:36 | Updated: 29 March 2021, 11:38

By Joe Cook

There “absolutely” should be crowds at Wimbledon and the British Grand Prix this summer if the roadmap out of lockdown continues as planned, the Sports Minister has told LBC.

Nigel Huggleston told LBC’s Nick Ferrari “the aspiration” is to allow a capacity of up to 10,000 people in outdoor stadiums from 17 May, with pilot events pushing “a little beyond that”.

Pressed by Nick on whether this would mean up to 20,000 fans at the FA Cup Final on 15 May at Wembley, the minister said: “I can say that that’s a figure I recognise, along with some other figures, but yes, that seems to be the ambition.”

Read more: Groups of six can meet and outdoor sport resumes as England's lockdown eases

For tennis and F1 fans, Mr Huggleston said there was hope for Wimbledon and the British Grand Prix to have crowds in late June and July this summer.

“If we can continue as we’re doing and proceed with the roadmap as planned...then absolutely we should be having a crowd. I can’t say how many,” he said.

Read more: England’s lockdown easing: What can I do from today?

As England takes another step down the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, with the relaxation of socialising outside and the restart of amateur sport, Mr Huggleston stressed that they “want to get to full capacity as soon as possible” at major events.

“That’s really important for the finances of the sector as well,” he explained.

Read more: Government considers Covid 'certificates' for large-scale events after lockdown

“I mean we can open, but unless we can open with large numbers, they can’t open profitably, and therefore the entire sector is in jeopardy unless we can get the finances and the money flowing again.

“So, we’re very aware of the importance of opening with as greater capacity as possible.

“But I’m afraid I can’t give any guarantees on the numbers yet. That’s why the pilot programmes and the overall next steps are so important.”

Read more: New ad campaign launched urging people not to meet indoors as lockdown eases

While the minister said the final details for the pilot events may not be decided “right up until the day before”, he said they “are a really important part of the opening up process”.

“They’re great learning experiences to see what else we can open up afterwards,” he told Nick.

“We’re planning on opening up Sports Day, for example, from the 17th May, so we want to get a few pilots in before that as well, and make sure that we’ve learnt about the systems in place – the hygiene measures, testing machines and so on.”

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

The comments from the sports minister follow the culture secretary's warning on Sunday that mass events could be off for "many years to come" if they are not able to open from the middle of June.

In exclusive comments to LBC's Swarbrick on Sunday, Oliver Dowden said: "I think if by that stage, when we have got the vaccine rollout proceeding, we have the effects of summer in terms of surprising a respiratory disease, we have to get those areas of national life back towards a commercial viability.

"If we can't do it then I fear we won't do it for many years to come and of course we will look at all these factors and measures that we can take to mitigate risk and maximise numbers."