Fans can be ‘safer’ watching matches in stadiums than in their own LIVING ROOMS: Brighton chief Paul Barber makes extraordinary claim as he pushes for Premier League supporters to finally return in just TWO weeks
- Premier League clubs hope fans can return in limited numbers from October 1
- Paul Barber has claimed supporters may be safer watching games in grounds
- Brighton’s CEO says fans must return to help keep football afloat at every level
- A tightening of restrictions in the UK may see plans pushed back into November
Premier League clubs believe they can provide supporters with a safer environment in grounds in comparison to watching games in pubs and bars – and even their own homes, Brighton CEO Paul Barber has claimed.
The top flight released a statement on Thursday which reiterated their desire for fans to finally return to stadia from October 1 – although a recent rise in coronavirus infections across the country may see their hopes scuppered.
With the government reintroducing certain restrictions, clubs now fear that games may have to continue behind closed doors until November. Barber, however, stressed that fans should be reintroduced into grounds – alongside the appropriate safety measures – as soon as possible to help sustain football at every level.
Paul Barber says Premier League clubs can provide a safe environment for fans in grounds
The Brighton CEO (above) believes supporters should return soon to help keep football afloat
‘The message is we want to see fans back in our stadiums as soon as possible,’ he told beIN Sports. ‘We believe we can create a safe environment that’s arguably safer than watching in their own living rooms and bars and pubs up and down the country.
‘It’s not only important to clubs at the Premier League level, but it’s vitally important to clubs all the way through the football pyramid, arguably more so further down the pyramid.
‘The reality is that match-day income from fans attending games is just as important to us [Premier League clubs] than for clubs outside of the Premier League and it’s particularly important when we are expected to support our colleagues further down the pyramid.
But top flight clubs now fear they may not be able to re-open their grounds until November
The new season began behind closed doors this month amid a rise in Covid-19 infections
‘We do need to get fans back in the stadium, we do need that to happen sooner rather than later, but we’re very aware that we need to keep people safe when doing that.
‘We believe that, with the measures we’ve put in place, we can keep people safe and I think that’s important. It’s an outdoor environment, we’ve got plenty of space to distance people, our stewards are trained to work with new guidelines to keep people safe and we think it’s not only important for the football economy, but for the wider economy up and down the country to get live sport back in action again.’
Brighton were selected for a pilot event by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to trial a phased return for spectators after March’s ban on mass gatherings.
The club welcomed 2,524 supporters for their friendly draw with Chelsea on August 29, and strict social distancing measures and temperature checks helped ensure a safe atmosphere.
Brighton were selected for a pilot event which saw 2,545 fans return for a friendly last month
Barber believes that the successful event proves clubs will be capable of welcoming fans back in the very near future.
He added: ‘The pilot event and the guidelines that the Sports Grounds Safety Authority have drawn up have shown that we can put on events with fans in stadiums safely almost regardless of where the country is in terms of different levels of infection.
‘Clearly if there are specific and highly localised spikes where there are massive concerns with local authorities than clearly football is going to have to respond and adapt accordingly and that may mean that those stadiums, for a period of time, may need to continue behind closed doors. But we shouldn’t stop the rest of the country from continuing to get back to a degree of normal if their local infections are low, or in some cases, so low that are almost non-existent.’
A looming tightening of Covid-19 restrictions has sparked fears clubs may fall out of business
Sports governing bodies now believe a November return at the earliest is the most likely scenario, and clubs will look to allow in a 30 per cent capacity on matchdays.
Barber has stressed that fans will need to return soon in order to prevent teams from falling out of business due to a drastic loss in revenue.
‘That is the ultimate concern that we all have [that clubs will vanish],’ he said. ‘Football clubs that have been around for over 100 years in many cases are not just there for the sporting competition that they take part in, but they are there as a fundamental and intrinsic part of the community that they serve.
‘The loss of a football club isn’t just about the loss from the competition and the jobs that go with it, it’s about the impact on communities up and down the country. That’s all something we desperately want to avoid.’
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