Sports stadiums could return to full capacity by next autumn, the culture secretary Oliver Dowden said.
The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport expressed his hope to see the 2021 Rugby League World Cup take place in Britain with full stands at matches, with plans to increase the number of supporters allowed to sporting venues in place to be introduced “as rapidly as possible”.
Under the current government restrictions, sporting venues in tier 2 areas are restricted to 2,000 fans in attendance outdoors and 1,000 indoors, with no fans allowed to attend events in tier 3. Up to 4,000 fans can attend tier 1 matches, but currently these are located only in Cornwall, the Isle of Wight and the Isles of Scilly.
Supporters returned to stadia following the end of the latest national lockdown at the start of the month, and some authorities are pushing for an increase in numbers from January, following the start of Covid-19 vaccinations this week.
But asked by Conservative MP Andy Carter (Warrington South) about concerns surrounding next October’s Rugby League World Cup, Dowden moved to ease any fears about its standing on the sporting calendar and offered hope that fans will be able to flock to matches.
“We're very much looking forward to it as the main event of 2021,” Dowden said. “Of course we're working very, very closely indeed with them.
"He's (Carter) absolutely right to raise the risks around Covid. I very much hope by that point we'll be able to have full return of fans to stadiums, but of course we'll ensure that contingencies are in place."
The World Cup is due to begin on 23 October with the final taking place at Old Trafford on 27 November, but the UK is due to host several major sporting events before the rugby league tournament that will rely on increased attendances to operate at a profit.
Wembley is due to host a number of rescheduled Euro 2020 matches with Glasgow’s Hampden Park also among the list of venues, while Wimbledon and The Open are due to return following their cancellations this year. Silverstone is due to host the British Grand Prix in July, while full summer’s are planned for men’s and women’s cricket.
There have already been calls to increase the number of fans allowed at venues that are big enough to seat greater numbers under socially distanced measures, with the Premier League reportedly keen on up to 10,000 supporters at games as early as next month.
But Dowden responded to a question from Conservative MP Karl McCartney (Lincoln) about possible increases by making it clear the best way for football to see larger numbers at matches is by the local area improving its Covid-19 numbers.
"First of all, I'm pleased about the deal that has been reached between the Premier League and the EFL - £250m which I am confident will secure the game through to the end of the season," Dowden said of the recent bailout agreement.
"Of course we want (venues) to reopen as rapidly as possible. The first important step for somewhere like Lincolnshire is to get out of tier three, into tier two and then tier one, and you'll see more fans able to attend as we go through that process."
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