Sports governing bodies will hold crunch talks with government officials on Thursday to push the case for covid certification to save the Britain’s Great Summer of Sport.
The meeting comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his cabinet weigh up whether to delay plans to lift the social distancing restrictions from June 21.
An announcement on Freedom Day is due on Monday, but there is a growing sense that restrictions may stay in place, due to concerns over the spread of the Indian variant of coronavirus.
Tickets have sold out at many England cricket matches as hopes rise for the summer of sport
Sportsmail understands that sporting leaders are set to reiterate their view that with the use of vaccine passports and negative lateral flow tests fans can return safely in large numbers, even if the government is not ready to abandon all limits.
‘Covid certification means every one who goes in to a stadium has a double vaccination or can demonstrate through a lateral flow test they are Covid free,’ said a source close to the talks.
‘It is the best route for supporters to return if there are problems. Sport is making the case.’
The meeting between sport and government comes on the day that 18,000 fans will return to Edgbaston for the first day of the second test against New Zealand as part of the latest pilot event.
Edgbaston will welcome 18,000 fans each day for the second test against New Zealand
At 70 per cent capacity, it is the first time crowds have been allowed to break social distancing limits at a sports event, since March last year. The safety of the spectators is being secured by requiring all attendees to provide evidence of a negative lateral flow test for Covid on arrival.
One Day Internationals and Twenty20 games are proving some of the most popular events
Sport has been consistent on the value and use of covid certification.
In April, 10 sports leaders wrote to Boris Johnson and the leaders of opposition parties stressing that plans to return fans in large numbers to stadiums from June 21 ‘must include arrangements that would verify a negative Covid test or… vaccination certification’.
And the position has not changed.
‘Covid certification that allows the opening up of larger crowds for events via evidencing either vaccination or a negative lateral flow test gives everybody, whatever their age and whether they have been vaccinated or not, a great opportunity,’ Daniel Gidney, the chief executive of Lancashire County Cricket told Sportsmail.
‘For everyone who has been desperate to attend a big outdoor festival, concert, or sports event that they’ve been wanting to do since the pandemic began, this potentially accelerates that.
‘I understand there has to be a balance struck between science, politics and the economy, but covid certification enables you to strike that balance.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s roadmap created the possibility of full houses after June 21
‘By including lateral flow tests, which are really easy to do and you know the result in 30 minutes, proves that covid certification is not discriminatory. That kind of handles the politics.’
Gidney pointed out that despite the rise in the Indian variant, very few fully vaccinated people have been admitted to hospital with the new strain.
And he added: ‘The data does appear currently to bear out the government’s aims to break the link between infection and hospitalisations. If you can’t get vaccinated, then regular testing ensures that even asymptomatic cases are picked up to prevent transmission.’
‘In terms of the economy, the relaxing of social distancing legislation is key, particularly for the hospitality and events industry. This enables the return of crowds and certification can help support keeping all those fans and customers safe.’
Government scientists are understood to have warned ministers that daily cases are on course to be running at well over 10,000 a day by June 21.
Yesterday, daily cases topped 6,000 for the second time since mid-March. And there is concern that those who have had only one jab are at risk from the virulent Indian strain.
Of the 12,383 cases of the Indian variant that have been identified, 126 have led to hospital admissions. 83 of the patients had not been vaccinated at all, 28 had received one dose and only three had received both doses, according to government figures.
Under the current restrictions, sports events are limited to a maximum of 10,000 people, (or 25 per cent of the stadium capacity at smaller venues).
Rishi Sunak could reluctantly accept an extension to lockdown of ‘a week or two’ following calls to delay the final stage of the roadmap out of lockdown.
Larger attendances have only been approved where fixtures have been declared pilots as part of the government’s Events Research Programme.
Government sources insist that critical covid data, which includes the number of infections, but also the hospitalisations resulting from covid, is still coming in and will inform the Prime Minister’s decision.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak is among a string of Cabinet ministers, who have pressed Prime Minister Boris Johnson to stick to the target date of June 21, arguing there is a pressing need to get key sectors such as hospitality firing on all cylinders.
But a Whitehall source said even Mr Sunak could live with a delay of ‘a week or two’. Pushing Freedom Day back by up to two weeks would have a huge impact on the crown jewels of summer sport.
Fans played a part in Wembley covid tests for the FA Cup semi and final and Carabao Cup final
Wimbledon is waiting to see if they will can use vaccine passports for the Championships
Cricket: England v New Zealand, second test June 11. The first sports event to have no social distancing since March 2020. As a pilot event, Edgbaston will be allowed 70 per cent capacity – 18,000 per day
Football: Euro 2020 Group D matches. England’s first three games in Euro 2020 have been designated pilot events testing covid certification. As a result, 22,500 fans will be allowed to attend the matches against Craotia (June 13), Scotland (Jubne 18) and Czech Republic (June 22).
Cricket: T20 vs Sri Lanka June 23, 24 & 26.The first two games at Sophia Gardens still have good availability, but the game on the 26th at the Ageas Bowl, Southampton, is sold out.
Football: Euro 2020 R16. Wembley hosts two matches in the round of 16 at Euro 2020 on June 26 and 29,. The FA has committed to UEFA that the stadium will be one quarter full with 22,500, the organisers have only published details of access to the group games, so far.
Tennis: Wimbledon, June 28. Currently planning for 25 per cent capacity, which is 10,000 fans per day, but with the use of covid certification the daily attendance could double
Cricket: ODIs vs Sri Lanka, June 29, July 1&4. For the match at the Emirates Riverside, Durham there is limited availability; the Kia Oval is sold out.
Football: Euro 2020 semi finals. For the semi finals on July 6 and 7, there is an aspiration to increase capacity to 45,000
Cricket: ODIs vs Pakistan, July 8, 10, & 13. There is limited availability at Sophia Gardens on July 8 and the subsequent games at Lords and Edgbaston are sold out.
Football: Euro 2020 final July 11. The FA has committed to UEFA that the stadium will be at least one quarter full for Euro 2020 matches at Wembley, but there is an aspiration to increase capacity to 45,000 for the final.
It would directly threaten the success of Wimbledon, which is currently limited to a capacity of 10,000 fans a day compared to a usual attendance of 40,000, and constrain capacities at Twenty20 and ODI cricket internationals against Sri Lanka.
Sportsmail reported today that the All-England Club could double its capacity for this year’s tournament if covid certification is allowed. It is believed the club needs a decision within the next three days to make the arrangements for the event that commences on June 28.
Beyond the direct impact of a delay, plans for other huge events would also be plunged into uncertainty with Twenty20 and ODI cricket matches scheduled against Pakistan early next month, and The Open Golf, Rugby League Challenge Cup Final and British Grand Prix at Silverstone all due to take place in mid-July.
Sources point out that ministers will have to do something to allow Euro 2020 matches to proceed as planned, if they postpone Freedom Day, and they suggest other events could also be given special status.
The Football Association has committed to UEFA, the tournament organiser, that it will host 25 per cent capacity – 22,500 fans – at all Euro 2020 games, with an aspiration to raise attendance to 45,000 for the semi-finals and final.
The three games in Group D, which see England play Croatia on June 12, Scotland on June 18 and Czech Republic on June 22, have been declared pilot events and will test the use of covid certification.
This allows them to admit 22,500 fans, who must show proof they have received two doses of the Covid vaccine or evidence of a negative lateral flow test within the previous 48 hours.
However, subsequent Euro matches, which include, two round-of-16 ties on June 26 and 29, the semi finals on July 6 and 7 and the final on July 11, are not part of the test programme and under current restrictions would appear to be limited to 10,000 fans.
Sources in sport suggest that government could extend the testing programme to allow capacities to be raised, or could even consider a list of nationally significant events that could use covid certification to allow higher capacities.
Looking beyond the next few weeks, sport has urged the government to continue to develop the NHS app, so that it can hold data on both covid vaccinations and test results.
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Currently, people can confirm their vaccination status via the app, but require an email or text message to verify they have had a negative test within the defined period before an event.
Even as vaccination rates increase, sport leaders are painfully aware that future surges in coronavirus or the emergence of other variants, later in the summer of in the autumn or winter, may threaten the return of fans at any point.
Last month, Premier League executive director Bill Bush made an impassioned plea for government to press on with the development of the covid certification scheme.
He anticipates a tested, functional scheme will be needed between now and the end of the year.
England’s Summer of Sport
Key events after 21 June – the earliest date all restrictions can be lifted:
11 June-11 July: Football – Euro 2020 in various countries, including seven matches at Wembley
28 June-11 July: Tennis – Wimbledon
23, 24 & 26 June: Cricket – England v Sri Lanka T20s
29 June, 1 & 4 July: Cricket – England v Sri Lanka ODIs
8, 10 & 13 July: Cricket – England v Pakistan ODIs
13 July: Athletics – Diamond League: Anniversary Games at London Stadium
15-18 July: Golf – The Open at Royal St George’s
16, 18 & 20 July: Cricket – England v Pakistan T20s
17 July: Rugby League – Betfred Challenge Cup final at Wembley
18 July: Formula 1 – British Grand Prix at Silverstone
4 Aug-14 Sept: Cricket – England v India five Test series
6 August: Football – EFL season commences
14 August: Football – Premier League season commences
19 August: Cricket – Royal London Cup final
21 August: Cricket – The Hundred women’s and men’s finals
18 September: Cricket – Vitality T20 Blast semi-finals and final
28 Sept-1 Oct: Cricket – Bob Willis Trophy final at Lord’s
3 October: Athletics – London Marathon
9 October: Rugby League – Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford