Coronavirus: No crowds at sport ‘positively hateful’ but necessary – Oliver Dowden


Wigmore Hall, London
Wigmore Hall in London was the first major UK music venue to welcome back live audiences for a full autumn season

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden says he accepts that keeping spectators away from sports venues is “positively hateful” but necessary to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Plans for supporters to return from 1 October were postponed because of a rise in infections.

Crowds may not come back until the end of March at the earliest.

“The very clear advice was that at this stage of the disease, we should be imposing restrictions,” Dowden said.

Football supporters and governing bodies have criticised the continued ban on crowds at sporting events.

Speaking to MPs at a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Wednesday, Dowden said: “We are doing things that are positively hateful, but the reason we are doing it is to secure public safety.”

Professor Jonathan Van Tam, the government’s deputy chief medical officer, has said closed and crowded spaces may increase transmission of the virus.

Photographs of a show at the London Palladium, where Arsene Wenger was holding an event, sparked questions about why crowds cannot return to sport.

Audiences on Sunday and Monday were pictured wearing masks and separated by empty seats.

Dowden said he “accepted people’s frustrations at the inconsistency” of the rules between the two events.

“If we had socially distancing for sport that is a lot of people coming week in and week out going to sports stadiums up and down the country,” Dowden said.

“There are actually very few socially-distanced indoor performances going on. They are not massively financially viable.

“If people are unhappy with indoor performances going ahead with social distancing that is a separate question of whether you stop them, as it were.”

The English Football League said it was “deeply frustrated” at the continued delay to fans returning.

“While we recognise that the UK is facing a significant public health crisis, football and football supporters should be treated fairly,” a statement to the Telegraph read.external-link

“From the league’s position, it seems illogical that socially-distanced events are taking place indoors at arts and music venues when football clubs have been prohibited from doing the same in outdoor stadiums.

“Football is one of the most heavily regulated areas of crowd management and we know from the successful staging of eight pilot events that clubs are able to introduce appropriate measures that will meet social distancing, rule of six and test and trace requirements.”