Spectators could be able to return to stadiums in England from October, says Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Pilots will take place from 1 August but any stadium reopenings would be subject to coronavirus guidelines.
Some sports, including football and cricket, have resumed behind closed doors after the Covid-19 lockdown.
“We will pilot larger gatherings in venues like sports stadiums with a view to a wider reopening in the autumn,” said Johnson on Friday.
“From October, we intend to bring back audiences in stadiums.
“Again, these changes must be done in a Covid-secure way, subject to the successful outcome of pilots.”
The pilot projects will be held at:
- Two men’s county cricket friendly matches – including Surrey v Middlesex at The Oval on 26-27 July;
- The World Snooker Championship at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre from 31 July;
- The Goodwood horse racing festival – known as Glorious Goodwood – on 1 August.
The Racecourse Association said the Goodwood event could cater for up to 5,000 people, plus participants.
The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) said it was “pleased that this announcement allows cricket to be among the first pilot events” and that it would continue to work with the government on the safety measures required for supporters to return safely.
“For months, millions of us have felt the void of being unable to go to the match to support our team or attend a top-class sporting event,” said sports minister Nigel Huddleston.
“So I am pleased that we are now able to move forward with a plan to help venues safely reopen their doors to fans.
“I recognise that not every sport, team or club has the benefit of huge commercial revenue, and it is often their dedicated fans that are the lifeblood which helps keep them going. By working closely with sports and medical experts, these pilots will help ensure the safe return of fans to stadiums.
“Although it will remain some time before venues are full to capacity, this is a major step in the right direction for the resumption of live spectator sport across the country.”
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport also said further pilot events are likely to be held in other sports.
In order for fans to return to stadiums, the government has outlined operating guidelines that state:
- Fans must agree to a new code of behaviour that includes not attending if they potentially have symptoms of coronavirus or have been exposed to a person who has tested positive;
- Social distancing must be observed in seating arrangements;
- Crowd management plans should be in place, including the controlled entry and exit of fans and one-way systems;
- Additional hygiene facilities should be installed inside venues, particularly at entrances and exits;
- Screening procedures should be considered at stadium entrances.
Domestic competitive sport in England resumed on 1 June for the first time since mid-March, with football’s Premier League and English Football League (EFL) getting back under way on 17 and 20 June respectively.
International cricket, golf, horse racing and snooker are among the other sports to have resumed.
The Premier League is understood to be pleased by the proposals and wants the maximum number of fans allowed back in stadiums as soon as it is safe to do so.
The league is also willing to offer pre-season games as possible trial events before the start of next season.
The Football Association said it welcomes the government’s “positive update” that allows them to “step up” efforts to get fans back into stadiums.
“Supporters are the lifeblood of our national game, and that has been underlined by how much their absence has been felt over the last month,” said the FA.
“We will continue to work closely with relevant authorities on how we can bring them back in a safe and secure manner, including any help we can provide to the proposed pilot events.”
The EFL said the Prime Minister’s announcement started to “provide some clarity” as football authorities work to bring fans back.
“We will continue to work with our colleagues at DCMS, the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA) and the wider football family in order to deliver on the timeframe and to assist clubs with the inevitable operational and financial challenges this will bring,” said the EFL.
Premiership Rugby says it would be ready to welcome fans back into grounds before the end of the season if given Government permission. The season is due to to resume on 14 August.
In Scotland, no date has yet been set for fans returning to stadiums. Now in phase three of the Scottish government’s route out of lockdown, the Premiership – football’s top flight – will begin on 1 August behind closed doors.
The second-tier Scottish Championship and Leagues One and Two kick off a reduced, 27-game season on 17 October, the same weekend as the first Old Firm derby between Celtic and Rangers of the 2020-21 campaign.
The Scottish government has held talks with Scottish Rugby about using Murrayfield as a test venue, where fans could return but be physically distanced.
More than 45,000 people in the UK have died with coronavirus, while there have been more than 292,000 confirmed cases.