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Sports minister says fans can return to grounds at Step 3 and below

Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston says the government have clarified guidance to allow “some fans” back in Non-League grounds from Steps 3 and below.

It means non-elite sports are able to admit some spectators with social distancing and while leagues and clubs are seeking full clarity, it will be seen as an important step in the right direction.

The definition of ‘elite’ sport includes the National League at Steps 1 and 2 – a key factor in the playing of their play-offs last month behind closed doors.

But clubs kicking off their pre-season campaigns have been playing without crowds.

A group of MPs led by Dame Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) and former sports minister Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) last night threw their weight behind the cause for fans to return.

Along with more than 30 MPs, they wrote to Huddleston asking for the “urgent return” of spectators to Non-League grounds.

And on Tuesday evening, he addressed the issue on twitter as well as issuing his response to the MPs’ call.

Sports minister Huddleston tweeted: “We’ve clarified guidance for organisers of non-elite sports events to help them admit spectators safely – with social distancing. The @FA definition of non-elite means #football clubs from Level 7 (below National League N/S) can admit some spectators.”

In a reply to the letter, Huddleston also said: “The guidance under which elite sport was able to resume (Elite sport guidance stages 1-5) does not apply to individuals or teams who do not meet the definition of elite sportspeople contained within the guidance.

non-league coronavirus crisis national league Sam Allardyce

MASKED UP: An Ebbsfleet fan salutes a player during one of the final games to go ahead before lockdown

“Non-elite football is covered by the Return to recreational team sport framework, and the supplementary guidance provided by The FA within that overall government framework.

“We have today updated the section on spectators to provide more guidance to clubs on the steps they need to take to safely manage any crowds. I understand The FA have also updated their guidance to reflect this.

“Whilst it is up to the sports to determine what constitutes the boundary between elite and non-elite within their sports, I am delighted that The FA’s definition means that leagues below the National Leagues North and South can continue with spectators.

“Thank you again for raising your concerns. We are determined to help local clubs return stronger than ever.”

While further clarification will be needed from the game’s authorities, it will be a welcome boost for clubs who have been fighting for fans to be allowed through the turnstiles to bring in the much-needed revenue they have been starved of since the coronavirus outbreak back in March.

An online petition reached more than 10,000 signatures in less than 24 hours calling on the government to address the issue.

As stated on the DCMS website, there will be strict regulations around supporters attending, which will include ensuring social distancing and assisting with track and trace by collecting spectator information.

It reads: “Supporters, parents, and other spectators to remain socially distanced whilst attending events. Spectator groups must be restricted to discrete six person gathering limits and spread out, in line with wider government guidance.

coronavirus national league

“Where it is anticipated that an activity will attract spectators, there should be a named person or persons with responsibility for ensuring adherence with these guidelines and ensuring the facility is COVID-19 Secure.

“The person should carry out and publish a risk assessment for the activity which limits the number of spectators and focuses on the need to maintain social distancing on arrival, for the duration of the activity, and on departure.

“Arrangements should also be put in place to support test and trace efforts by collecting information from spectators which is detailed enough to allow NHS Test and Trace to contact them if necessary. See the maintaining records guidance for further information.”

In response to the news, Tracey Crouch MP tweeted: “This is great news for Step 3 and below (although clubs closed gates so confused by the word “continue”. But need clarity on what “some” means and for 68 Step 1 and 2 clubs before their season starts, especially as many have lower attendances than Step 3 clubs.”

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Images courtesy of The Non-League Paper

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