Surrey v Middlesex at The Oval: Fans are coming back to sport – but how will the pilots work? – BBC News

Cardboard fans have been the only ones present at major sport since March

A significant step towards the return of crowds to live sport will be taken this weekend, when The Oval welcomes 1,000 fans back to watch cricket.

Other pilots will follow soon after at Edgbaston, Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre and Goodwood racecourse, as the government prepares for a widening of spectator capacities this autumn.

But how different will the fan experience be at these first test events?

Cricket pilot: The Oval – 26-27 July

When Surrey face Middlesex on Sunday for a men’s county cricket friendly, it will mark the first time fans have attended a live sports event in England since the Covid-19 lockdown began in March and all sport was suspended.

Tickets were reserved for members of both clubs, and there will be careful spacing of groups to avoid breaking social distancing guidelines.

Households will be separated by two clear seats to the left and right of them, and only each alternate row will be used.

Only a few stands will be used for the trial, with the areas nearest the pavilion reserved for participants.

Richard Gould, Surrey CCC chief executive, said the club feels a “considerable responsibility” to get it right but there has been a positive response from members.

“What’s been really pleasant to see is the level of support from the public,” he said. “Nobody knows quite what the appetite is for a return to live sport and we’ve been inundated with calls. We had 10,000 calls in the first hour.”

Gould said the bars and concession stands will be open to try to make it “as normal as possible”.

“The bars will be open, there will be PA announcements, everything going on on the big screens, food options available,” he said.

Snooker pilot: Crucible Theatre – from 31 July

The World Snooker Championships at the Crucible will be the first indoor event with crowds, allowing around 300 supporters in for each session – about a third of the normal capacity.

Audience members will only sit directly next to people who they purchased tickets with and are in the same household groups, meaning there will be a metre of space between people from separate bubbles.

Ronnie O’Sullivan said the decision to allow fans in created an “unnecessary risk”.

But world number eight Kyren Wilson, who reached the semi-final in 2018, said: “It’s a little bit of normality isn’t it, coming back into our lives.

“The Crucible would have been strange without a crowd and I’m delighted there are going to be people in there and someone to play in front of.”

Fans have been sent a code of conduct which says they must wear a mask while walking around the Crucible, but can remove it while watching the action, and the bars will not be open.

Racing pilot: Goodwood – 1 August

Glorious Goodwood is one of the major flat-racing festivals of the summer. The final day of the meeting – Saturday, 1 August – will see 4,000 racegoers, made up of members and their guests, in attendance.

But the racecourse will be split up into eight mini-enclosures to avoid over-crowding, and organisers say this means “it will be a very different experience for the racegoer than what they’d expect”.

Adam Waterworth, Goodwood’s director of sport, told BBC Sport: “It won’t be one big crowd of 4,000, it will be eight lots of 500 in effect.

“It just makes sense, there are certain pinch points at any venue, the parade ring will be one for us, of course the winners’ enclosure, and we’ve got to manage it in such a way that means only a very limited number of people can get access to those areas.

“You will stay in your enclosure. Different enclosures will have different things going for them, in terms of either their views or what the offer would be, but once you’re in, you can’t go from enclosure to enclosure.”

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