Football Spectator Attendance: Covid-19 — [Graham Stringer in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:11 pm on 9th November 2020.

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Photo of Imran Ahmad Khan Imran Ahmad Khan Conservative, Wakefield 5:11 pm, 9th November 2020

The first lockdown stripped us of much that we enjoy. Museum exhibitions were left to gather dust; music venues fell silent; theatres closed their doors; cinemas turned off their screens; and our sports stadiums were left empty, to help protect people’s lives and prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed.

From an economic perspective, we can analyse and measure the tangible cost of lockdown. In 2019, the UK premier league had 14.5 million spectators visit stadiums to watch their teams. According to the accountancy firm Deloitte, the first coronavirus lockdown cost premier league clubs £1 billion in lost revenue. Leagues lower down the scale also suffered financially: league two clubs, which made £91 million in 2018-19, may have lost £1.7 million per game without spectators, and £37 million if fans cannot return all season. As a percentage of their cost base, amateur and even professional clubs in the lower leagues are hurting disproportionately from a lack of revenue at the gates.

That, however, only tells half the story. Football, like all team sports, is a powerful tool for communities to come together in a shared passion. While elite sports are permitted to continue, the impacts on community spirit, togetherness and mental health are also felt more keenly towards the lower base of the footballing pyramid. In those terms, the cost of closure cannot be quantified or estimated. As we enter the second lockdown, I do not believe that some of the more draconian measures we suffered in the first lockdown should return, such as the blanket closure of football stadiums to fans.

A couple of weeks ago in October, I visited Wakefield AFC and watched them defeat Wombwell Main FC. During my visit, I was impressed by how well the social distancing measures issued by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Department of Health and Social Care were enforced and adhered to by the fans; further, Wakefield AFC lives and trains together. Through these measures, team sports were allowed to be played in a safe manner. I strongly believe that with the strict enforcement of social distancing measures, football stadiums should be allowed to not only host games, but allow for a number of spectators to enter the stadium.

In defeating coronavirus, we should not and need not destroy everything that we cherish and enjoy. Where it is possible, everyday life should be able to continue in a sensible manner that does not cause a risk of infection. I believe this is the case with football stadiums, and having a responsible and well-distanced audience would provide great benefits, not just to people’s mental health and social lives but to communities that come together in a shared love of sport.