The planned return of spectators to sports venues in England from October 1 could be on hold for six months due to fears over a second wave of coronavirus infections.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a range of restrictions in the House of Commons on Tuesday lunchtime, including those related to mass gatherings.
“We have to acknowledge that the spread of the virus is now affecting our ability to reopen business conferences, exhibitions and large sporting events,” he said.
“So we will not be able to do this from October 1 and I recognise the implications for our sports clubs which are the life and soul of our communities, and my right honourable friends the Chancellor and the Culture Secretary are working urgently on what we can do now to support them.” He said the measures being announced on Tuesday would remain in place for “perhaps six months”.
Spectators had been set to return from the start of next month on a socially distanced basis, with capacities set to be limited to between 25% and 35%.
The news is a devastating blow to sports clubs across the country, many of whom rely heavily on match-day revenue for survival, and there have already been calls from sports governing bodies for the government to provide emergency funding.
The EFL has estimated its clubs will lose a collective £200m without fans in stadiums for the whole of the 2020-21 season.
Pilot events set to go ahead in rugby union have also been cancelled.
Each event had already been capped at 1,000 capacity, but will now take place behind closed doors on government advice.
Premiership Rugby confirmed this affected the match between Bath and Gloucester on Tuesday night, and Bristol against Leicester next week.
Major sporting events in the UK, including Premier League football, English international cricket and two Formula One races at Silverstone, have been held behind closed doors over the summer, with sport suspended completely during the lockdown period from March through to the start of June.
Britain's Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport confirmed all pilot events scheduled for September had now been cancelled and the events would be played behind closed doors.
The Football Supporters’ Association said it was “crucial” to the survival of clubs to get spectators back into grounds as soon as it was safe to do so.
Kevin Miles, chief executive of the FSA, said: “We have written to the government to stress how important it is that we start to allow fans back into games.
“Feedback from our members at test events has confirmed high levels of compliance with all the health and safety measures put in place, and that they felt safer at games than they have done in many other social situations.
“Having fans at games is of course not only important to the lives of supporters, it is also crucial to the survival of so many clubs who play a crucial role within their communities.
"A combination of revenue at the ground and government support is urgently needed to keep clubs going. The government has to listen to fans and football clubs on this one.”