Target for Premier League with partial crowds is 1 October, says sports minister | Football

The government has dashed hopes fans could be back inside stadiums for the start of the new Premier League season on 12 September with the sports minister, Nigel Huddleston, confirming officials are working towards 1 October.

A series of test events have started to be trialled in cricket grounds – with 1,000 fans being allowed to watch Surrey play Middlesex last Sunday. The world snooker championship and the final day of Glorious Goodwood will follow this week.

“The October 1 deadline is certainly the target that we’re looking at,” Huddleston said. “If you look at various announcements we’ve made, some have been put forward, some have been pushed back, but that’s a pretty firm one. In the whole scheme of things, it’s not that far away – 60-something days and we’ll be there – so I would be surprised if that date was moved.”

The Community Shield and Women’s Super League matches are believed to be under consideration as test events, but Huddleston warned football fans that if they didn’t obey social distancing rules in test events it would push back the reopening of stadiums.

“There are particular challenges with certain sports,” he said. “People have got to realise if you don’t behave, you won’t have more people in stadiums. They’ve got to take that personal responsibility and realise that if they don’t behave appropriately they’re risking the game for everybody.”

Huddleston also signalled to the Premier League that it should do more to help lower-league clubs survive the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and warned that the government could not continue to help through the furlough scheme and loans forever.

“We are having conversations with all the key players. The Premier League has advanced £125m so far and if more’s needed then we’ll have those conversations,” he said. “But the public wouldn’t expect us to be doling out public money if there’s not also some activity and personal sacrifice by the individual clubs as well.

“There’s a responsibility for the football pyramid to look very carefully at the dynamics and the financial flows. There’s a lot of money in British football and we need to make sure that it first and foremost looks after itself.”

Huddleston took a similarly tough approach when asked whether the government could help the Rugby Football Union, which is expected to cut 139 jobs and lose £107m because of the pandemic. “You’ve got to remember that over the last few months many sports entities, including grassroots, have taken advantage of the various government schemes to the tune of tens, if not hundreds, of millions of pounds, whether it’s the furloughing or loans or any of the other initiatives out there,” he said.

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“There are always demands for additional pockets of support, but the priority has to be to help get sport back on its own feet. The most important way to do that is getting people back in stadia and games going again. We can’t be bailing out every sector of the economy forever.”

Huddleston conceded it was hard to see a date when packed crowds would return. “Whilst we’ve still got social distancing measures in place, it’s going to be challenging. There is experimentation going on around the world, both indoor and outdoor. You look at what Asian countries are doing with theatres, for example. I’m not utterly pessimistic.”

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