Plans to allow the phased return of spectators into sporting venues in England from October 1 will be put on hold because of the recent rise in coronavirus cases, Michael Gove has announced.
A number of pilot test events, in which capacities have been capped at 1,000 irrespective of the size of grounds, have already taken place, but the Cabinet Office Minister has said the next phase has been paused.
Gove told BBC Breakfast: “It was the case that we were looking at a staged programme of more people returning.
“It wasn’t going to be the case that we were going to have stadiums thronged with fans, we’re looking at how we can, for the moment, pause that programme.
“But what we do want to do is to make sure is that as and when circumstances allow get more people back. We have to look at sporting events with caution.”
Super League matches have been played behind closed doors since the season resumed on August 2 but the Rugby Football League last week unveiled plans for socially distant crowds at Wigan, Leeds, Huddersfield and Castleford on September 30.
RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer told BBC 5 Live: “It’s clearly very disappointing. We spoke with the Secretary of State last week who was very supportive in developing a road map back to full crowds and the pilot schemes were the first step in that.
“The push on the 1,000 crowds would be disappointing if that was to be pushed backwards.”
Gove added: “We also recognise that sport’s a vital part of the life of the nation and we’re looking at everything we can do to support our athletes and our great clubs at what is a challenging time.
“We have been piloting some open-air venues and we do want people to be watching sport.
“It is the case that we need to be cautious at the moment. A mass re-opening would not be appropriate at the moment. We do need to proceed with caution.”
The UK’s chief medical officers recommended on Monday that the COVID-19 alert level should be moved from three to four, which means the transmission of the virus is “high or rising exponentially”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to outline a number of new measures aimed at tackling the surge in coronavirus cases later on Tuesday.
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