Premiership: Could fans be present for rugby union's restart?
Premiership clubs are hopeful that any change in social distancing measures and the opening-up of the hospitality industry may lead to fans being present when rugby union restarts.
The government is expected to announce on Tuesday if the two-metre distancing rule will be relaxed, and if pubs and restaurants can open in July.
Premiership Rugby plan to resume on 15 August, with matches set to take place behind closed doors, but there is growing optimism clubs may be able to host games with reduced crowds.
An early proposal was for one ‘neutral’ venue to stage whole rounds of matches at a time, but this plan is now likely to be stood down in favour of normal ‘home and away’ fixtures.
And while the clubs will be guided by government advice over social distancing and mass gatherings, it is understood they are exploring the possibility of opening up stadia in line with the hospitality sector.
“If pubs and restaurants are able to open then we will be seeing what we can learn from them so that we can apply that to our own bars and hospitality areas,” said one club representative.
While top-flight rugby union has lagged behind other sports when it comes to testing and a return to action, the delay has given the rugby authorities more time and a chance to learn from football’s example.
The Premier League, which has already resumed, had originally looked to play matches at ‘neutral’ grounds, before deciding on the usual ‘home and away’ format.
A number of Premiership clubs have already offered supporters refunds on season tickets for the 2019-2020 season in the expectation their remaining home matches will take place behind closed doors.
However, with all season ticket holders unlikely to be able to attend because of restrictions on crowd size, clubs would have the option of holding a ballot to determine who can buy tickets.
In May, Surrey County Cricket Club announced they were looking into a reduced-capacity crowd of up to 6,000.
“We are actively investigating how and how soon we may be able to get fans safely into the ground again, and in what numbers,” added a well-placed club source.
Premiership Rugby have employed consultancy firm PWC to manage their return-to-play project.
A league spokesperson added: “The safety of our players, clubs and staff continues to be Premiership Rugby’s priority, and we are on track to resume play on 15 August.
“We’ll make an announcement when a formal decision has been made on the venue or venues for these games.”
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