Will real fans be able to replace the cardboard cutouts for Christmas?

Credit: PA

How likely is a return of crowds by Christmas?

It’s an uphill task for the Government to deliver some much-needed optimism to the sporting sector by the start of December. The Prime Minister set the hare running on Monday by reportedly telling 60 northern Tory MPs on a Zoom call: "I pledge that when we come out of lockdown on December 2 we will work to have the crowds come back."

Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, is also keen to iron out what he admitted were "inconsistencies" after concert venues such as the Royal Albert Hall and O2 were given clearance to sell tickets. However, with much of the country likely to be plunged into Tier 4 restrictions when the current lockdown ends, sporting chiefs admitted said they were not realistically expecting stadium reopenings before the New Year.

What do the experts say?

Professor Gabriel Scally, president of the epidemiology and public health section of the Royal Society of Medicine, told The Telegraph that any possibility of getting crowds back while Covid rates continue to rise was "extremely optimistic". "At the moment there is little or no sign of any significant reduction in new cases and given that situation, it is almost impossible to realistically see how substantial gatherings at events are feasible," he said.

Will the Premier League be first to open up?

Probably. England’s top tier has told Whitehall it wants to be at the forefront of a road map for sports, concert halls and festivals. A so-called freedom pass involving on-day testing and the German stadium system which tracks local infection rates over a seven-day period are among favoured options for fast-tracking fans. The Premier League says it can deliver immediately on both, despite previously excluding itself from the autumn pilots.

Will fans be required to wear face masks?

During the pilots, advice varied from venue to venue. After consultation with Government, the World Snooker Championship ordered spectators to wear masks in the concourse at Sheffield but, initially, not while sat at their socially-distanced seats. However, at most football grounds clubs have taken different approaches. Cambridge United supporters were told to do so during the EFL Trophy match between the hosts and Fulham Under-21s. At Brighton, however, many fans took off there masks while sitting at their seats. The plan for the return of rugby also appears to be mixed. There were no strict rules at the Twickenham Stoop on September 6 to watch Harlequins against Bath. Around half of the 2,700 allowed in wore face coverings.

Why were pubs and concerts opened, but not sport stadiums?

The likes of Paul Barber, chief executive at Brighton, claims his pilots at the Amex pre-season showed that fans are safer inside stadiums rather than heading to the pub. However, the position taken by the Government is that fans will have a more acute impact while travelling to and from the venue than they would in smaller numbers visiting pubs, or even concerts. One option for clubs and local authorities will be announcing staggered arrival times. Matches will also be immediately ordered behind closed doors where this is risk of local infection surges.