FANS RETURN: EFL pilots for this weekend approved

Football supporters could return to stadiums for EFL fixtures this weekend after pilots were approved by the government - with Norwich City yet to confirm whether their game with Preston North End has been selected.

EFL clubs were asked to put in requests by Tuesday in order for their plans to be signed off in time. The Canaries chief operating officer Ben Kensell confirmed last month that the club would look to hold test events.

If approved, 1,000 City fans would be allowed to attend Saturday’s fixture as football takes a major step back to into stadiums.

In a letter to clubs this morning, the EFL’s head of policy John Nagle said: “We cannot guarantee at this stage that all clubs that would like to stage a pilot will be given permission to do so, as only a limited number will be approved.

“We are still in discussions with regard to pilot matches on other dates.”

The plans to get fans back in stadia took a hit last week as national fears continued to grow around a rise in Covid-19 infection rates across the country, prompting prime minister Boris Johnson to announce a new set of restrictions last week.

Pilots for sport events originally planned for this month were put on hold awaiting a review, but in a letter to Tracey Crouch MP, Huddleston, the Minister for Sport, Tourism and Heritage, expressed his hope that a portion of fans could watch live sport again by the start of next month.

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Writing in the letter, Huddleston said: “We have made important progress in staging a series of pilots and test events across different sports, with more to follow.

“The pilot programme will continue throughout September, restricted to a maximum capacity of 1,000 people. The success of these pilots will be reviewed ahead of the current date of October 1 for reopening for socially distanced spectators under Covid-secure conditions more widely, if public health conditions permit.”

City are currently waiting for further advice from the EFL and the government before actioning their plans to get supporters back to Carrow Road safely. The club recently suspended the first phase of their plans after new restrictions were put in place.

King’s Lynn Town are also awaiting guidance as they hope to kick-start their first-ever season in the National League with spectators present at the Walks. The Linnets begin their campaign against Yeovil Town on Saturday, October 3.

However, Huddleston believes there is optimism that elite teams will be able to open their doors next month.

“The FA’s definition means only leagues below the National League North and South can continue with spectators.

“However, subject to the successful staging of the pilot programme and wider public health conditions, we hope to reopen elite sport fixtures including the National League for socially-distance spectators under Covid-secure conditions from October 1.”

The last Carrow Road game with a full crowd was the Canaries 1-0 win over Leicester City in February.

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