While the global pandemic has had a significant impact on sporting events, as the recovery starts, countries are opting either to exclude spectators, welcome limited capacities, or, in the case of some sports, carry on as normal.
Organisers of this year’s most prestigious sporting event, the Tokyo Summer Olympiad, have already taken the decision – following a one-year postponement due to the COVID-19 pandemic – that the event will have certain limitations when it comes to audiences.
After weeks of rumours and reports, organisers officially announced recently that the Summer Games will not allow international spectators.
In an official statement, the International Olympic Committee said: “Currently, the COVID-19 situation in Japan and many other countries around the world is still very challenging and a number of variant strains have emerged, whilst international travel remains severely restricted globally. Based on the present situation of the pandemic, it is highly unlikely that entry into Japan will be guaranteed this summer for people from overseas. In order to give clarity to ticket holders living overseas and to enable them to adjust their travel plans at this stage, the parties on the Japanese side have come to the conclusion that they will not be able to enter into Japan at the time of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. This conclusion will further contribute to ensure safe and secure games for all participants and the Japanese public.”
The joint decision was made by the Tokyo local government, the Tokyo Organising Committee and the government of Japan, reflecting the overall sentiment of the Japanese public.
The F1 season gets underway, with fans
In March, the 2021 F1 season got underway with the Bahrain Grand Prix, where organisers sold tickets only to individuals who had either been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or had recovered from the virus.
The race kicked off this year’s 23-race season and organisers, the but it’s been announced that the majority of races will have fans in attendance.
Meanwhile, the Imola F1 Grand Prix will take place on the weekend of April 16-18 without spectators.
Organisers had outlined plans for spectators to attend in a limited capacity but this was abandoned in the run-up to last autumn’s event as Italy introduced tighter measures.
Looking further ahead on the F1 calendar, organisers cited the successful vaccine rollout and improving prospects of controlling Covid-19 in the UK as an indication that the British Grand Prix, which is scheduled for July 16-18, will go ahead with fans.
F1’s global director of race promotion, Chloe Targett-Adams, said it would be wrong to assume that the presence of spectators would become the norm in the second half of the year, because countries are following different timelines as they deal with the pandemic. “At this stage, I’m still optimistic that the bulk of the season will see spectators. Capacities are still to be determined and we follow the governments’ lead on that.”
Game, set and match for the Australian Open…eventually
February’s Australian Open in Melbourne was interrupted as Melbourne began a hard five-day lockdown in response to a new Covid cluster. Fans at Melbourne Park were ushered towards the exits at 11.30pm to comply with the new tough measures, which mandated the entire state of Victoria to enter stage 4 lockdown.
Australia’s new “circuit-breaker” rules classed professional athletes as essential workers and stipulated that sporting venues hosting professional events can remain open with key staff present to ensure the safe running of the event, but no spectators are allowed.
It meant that from Saturday, which is traditionally one of the most popular days of the tournament – all remaining matches up to and including the men’s and women’s quarter-finals had to be played behind closed doors.
When fans were permitted back to the Australian Open, tournament director Craig Tiley said the crowd was capped at 7,477 spectators for each session, which is approximately 50% capacity.
Euro 2020 is scheduled for this summer
In football, the rescheduled Euro 2020 tournament will get underway in 2021 in Rome on June 11 and runs through to Sunday July 11, with the semi-finals and final take place at Wembley Stadium in England.
UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said his government is looking into whether crowds of more than 10,000 would be able to attend matches at the European Championship.
From May 17, stadiums in the UK could be permitted to host as many as 10,000 fans, while from June 21, the current plan is for restrictions to be lifted completely. Pilot events will explore how spectators can return safely in large numbers to stadiums.
Dowden said: “For the later matches in the tournament, we’ll be looking at substantially more than 10,000, but that is subject to finding a safe way of doing that. I’m very hopeful and optimistic that we will get many, many more people in for the later stage games.”
US sporting events carry o
In the United States, the consensus of opinion is that spectators are able to attend sporting events, but in much smaller numbers than normal.
New York City is allowing in-person attendance of live sporting events, capping capacity at 10% of the venue’s usual capacity – that works out to less than 2,000 fans at the city’s main indoor arenas, Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center.
New York’s two outdoor baseball stadiums – Yankee Stadium and Citi Field – will be able to accommodate between 4,100 and 4,700 fans.
Some stadiums and arenas have been allowing limited attendance throughout the pandemic, while baseball’s Texas Rangers plan to allow full capacity once the season begins.
Some venues never fully shut their doors to fans. For example, AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, limited attendance to 50% of its usual 100,000-seat capacity for Dallas Cowboys football games; the Texas Rangers recently announced that it would allow a sell-out crowd of 40,518 at Globe Life Field once baseball season begins.
Dr Allen Hershkowitz, an environmental scientist and Senior Adviser to the International WELL Building Institute, an organisation that provides health and safety ratings to facilities including Yankee Stadium, said that ensuring fan safety has been a major undertaking.
“Everything, and I mean everything, had to be evaluated for its potential health risk,” Hershkowitz said.
“Everything, all of the surroundings, had to be considered for its impact on health – from where people line up outside, where they’re going to be entering washrooms, restaurants, merchandising, seating, locker rooms, clubhouses. There is not one thing that has not had to be reviewed for its potential to instigate an illness.”
Hershkowitz explained that fans will notice a few changes when they return to Yankee Stadium.
“Touchless ticketing is now the norm; signage around the stadium reminds fans of occupancy limits and physical distancing and face coverings will be required as well,” he said.