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National League start in chaos as plans for return of fans are ‘paused’

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The hopes of National League clubs of kicking off in front of fans are hanging in the balance after it was revealed that their return to watch live sport in England from 1 October will not go ahead.

Already under review following a rise in coronavirus cases, the plans will be “paused” by Prime Minister Boris Johnson when he sets out new measures in Parliament on Tuesday.

Cabinet office Minister Michael Gove confirmed the grim news on BBC Breakfast on Tuesday, hours after the UK’s Covid-19 alert level was raised to 4, meaning transmission is “high or rising exponentially”.

The National League announced it had received approval for its clubs to hold test events this week for a up to 1,000 fans at four friendlies as part of the wider programme to pilot the safe return of spectators to sporting fixtures.

The news comes after the leaders of more than 100 sports bodies wrote to the government to ask for emergency funding and the setting up of a “sports recovery fun” to mirror the £1.57bn support package given to the arts industry in July.

Gove told viewers: “We were looking at a staged programme of more people returning – it wasn’t going to be the case that we were going to have stadiums thronged with fans.

“We’re looking at how we can, for the moment, pause that programme, but what we do want to do is to make sure that, as and when circumstances allow, get more people back.

“The virus is less likely to spread outdoors than indoors but again it’s in the nature of major sporting events that there’s a lot of mingling.

“People look back now at the beginning of the pandemic at some of the major sporting events then and ask the question why were they allowed to go ahead.

“What we must do is look at sporting events now with caution but we also recognise that sport is a vital part of this nation and we’re looking at everything we can do to support our athletes, our great clubs, through what will be a challenging time.”

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