The Kia Oval hosted the first trial of spectators returning to live sport since the coronavirus shutdown
By Blake Welton
Last Updated: 26/07/20 7:33pm
Spectators returning to sporting events took a step forward on Sunday with 1,000 supporters attending Surrey’s friendly against Middlesex at the Kia Oval.
The two-day match is the first time fans are able to attend a live sports event in England after the coronavirus pandemic forced mass gatherings to be banned and all sport suspended in March.
Surrey notched up 335 runs in 90 overs, losing 10 wickets along the way, with Steve Borthwick top scoring on 87 runs.
The match is one of a number of pilot events aimed at reintroducing crowds as the UK government outlined the next steps to ease lockdown restrictions last week.
The upcoming World Snooker Championship in Sheffield and the Glorious Goodwood horse racing festival are set to be among other pilot events.
Should these be successful, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is hopeful there could be a wider re-opening for crowds to return from October onwards.
The government has said “events have been carefully selected to represent a range of sports and indoor and outdoor spectator environments”.
When it was announced cricket would host the first pilot event, the England and Wales Cricket Board said it would work with the government on the safety measures required for the public to return safely.
Attendance at the pilot events are subject to a number of strict conditions with tickets at the 25,500 capacity Oval reserved for members of both clubs only.
Careful spacing of groups to avoid breaking social distancing guidelines is in place throughout while households separated by two clear seats to the left and right of them, and only each alternate row will be used.
Cashless payments for food and drink as well as hand sanitiser stations are also in operation throughout the test section of the ground.
Only a few stands are set to be used for the trial, with the areas nearest the pavilion reserved for both sets of players.
The match will be used as practice ahead of the cricket season starting in earnest on August 1 but a number of other sports, including football, will be focused on the success of the event in terms of spectators.
Although the dates for the 2020/21 campaign were announced on Friday, neither the Premier League nor EFL have set a date for fans returning to stadiums – with similar friendlies to cricket being mooted to see if fans can return to stadiums.
‘Test event a definite success’
Surrey chief executive Richard Gould said the club received 10,000 calls for the 1,000 places available within an hour of the tickets being made available to members.
Gould hailed the test event a “definite success” and expressed his hopes that the circumstances can be replicated.
“I think it’s really important [for county cricket] because we haven’t had crowds back in our grounds since September 2019 and perhaps this will be a pilot that will allow more supporters to return in the coming weeks,” he said.
“Our season finishes in eight or nine weeks’ time so it’s a short season and it’s important that we don’t go a year-and-a-half without having supporters in the ground.
“It’s been a definite success. We’ll measure it on a number of different levels, firstly was the demand for tickets.
“We went to our members last week and we got literally thousands of calls, people wanting to return for what is a friendly match, normally we’d have much smaller crowds than this so to get a thousand people desperate to come and more is definitely great news and so far the day’s going well.”
Gould is hopeful the experiment can be repeated soon: “The sun is shining, cricket is taking place and people look happy.
“I hope it’s not going to be a one-off, I think it depends on how well it goes.
“We’ve got lots of people here from government and safety authorities and I think they’ll have a look at it and make a judgement and hopefully it can accelerate things if this goes well.”