Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Opinion: Let Us In

Posted on 19 November 2020 by Maria Grech

COVID-19 changed what was perceived as ‘normal life’ and made people accept many restrictions taking over their daily lives. It wasn’t just everyday lives that were affected, one thing that was also catapulted into the unknown was the sporting world.

Matches were cancelled, seasons were suspended, and fans were left without being able to watch their chosen sport in person. Back when lockdown first began, fans were more inclined to agree with the decision for sports to close its doors for the safety of everyone involved but, that was eight months ago.

One sport that was forced to close its doors early on was football, a sport where fans and audiences form the backbone of footballing culture. Leicester City beating Aston Villa 4-0 was the last game played before lockdown forced a halt to the sport in March.

Although following government guidelines, fans were not allowed back into stadiums when football restarted in an attempt to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Still, to this day, with cases rising, fans are unable to go and watch football games. Spectators are getting more anxious by the day, wondering whether they will have to watch the whole season at home. 

Back in July, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was adamant about the fact that spectators would be able to go back to stadiums in October. Of course, this made fans get excited at the prospect of being able to return, though sadly it didn’t happen.

Later, in September, Johnson reviewed this proposal and as COVID cases once more began to rise, he decided to scrap this idea as it was still not safe for fans to return.

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“Should fans be allowed back in stadiums to watch football?” was the question we posed on Twitter. The responses were interesting with many mixed views from many different fans. Most of the replies were in favour of opening up sporting venues to the public once again.

At the time of the tweet, England hadn’t yet been put into a second lockdown, so many of the responses were in comparison to people being allowed to go to theme parks such as Thorpe Park and Alton Towers where hundreds of people can be close to each other and where social distancing isn’t monitored.

However, people could not attend a football match where social distancing rules would be followed as a limited amount would be allowed in. One tweet even went as far as to speculate that this is, in fact, a punishment for fans for all the decades of football hooliganism.

One Twitter follower referenced his local MP Mark Fletcher, who represents the Bolsover constituency in North-East Derbyshire for the Conservative party: 

Josh added: “It’s not something I’ve done before but I just wanted to feel listened to. I’m desperate to get back into football grounds to watch my team and would go back now, even with the virus situation as it currently is. I can sign petitions until the cows come home, but the only way I have direct access to the Government is through my MP, so that’s why I wrote to him.

“It’s his first time representing Bolsover, so I wanted to see how much he was passionate about the concerns of his constituents and how much he valued their opinion.

“Realistically, he’s someone that can make a difference and call on the Government to consider the mental health and wellbeing of thousands of football fans up and down the country.” 

People go to watch football games for many different reasons but for some, watching games week in, week out is the chance to socialise with friends and other fans and contribute to preventing any potential mental health risks. It’s interesting to see how the government is reacting to not allowing fans to go back.

Sport is a huge part of British culture so why are fans not allowed to go back when firstly, stadiums are an outdoor venue, and secondly, social distancing rules can be followed.

Although a time frame cannot be put on when fans will be able to return, as of 9th November, reports have said that pharmaceutical company Pfizer has said their COVID-19 vaccine is 90% effective meaning this could be a huge breakthrough for the sporting industry is eventually starting to welcome fans back into stadiums. 

Josh said: “I think the news of a potential vaccine can only be a good thing for sport and sports fans. Of course, there will have to be a certain percentage of the population that will have to be injected with it for it to be truly effective, but it’s a great step in the right direction.

“However, I think more needs to be done including looking at potential quick testing before fans are allowed into the ground on a match day.”

Until the day comes when Mr. Johnson finally allows fans back into stadiums, it will be a long journey to a COVID-free, socially distanced life for sport.