• Quote: ‘For months millions of us have felt the void of being unable to go to the match to support our team or attend a top-class sporting event’ – sports minister Nigel Huddleston

By Andrew Atkinson chief Chief sports editor

Sports have been given a huge boost amid COVID-19 lockdown with the UK Government giving the go-ahead for spectators to return to events at racing, snooker and cricket, in ‘test case’ pilot events.

Goodwood races has been given permission to allow 5,000 spectators attend on August 1, the final day of the Qatar Glorious Goodwood Festival meeting.

Two County Cricket friendly fixtures, including Surrey versus Middlesex at The Oval on July 26-27, and the World Snooker Championship at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre are also pilot venues, the government announced.

If the pilot events are successful spectators could return to sporting fixtures on October 1.

Sport returned behind closed doors in June after a three months close down, due to the world coronavirus pandemic.

A government spokesperson said it is likely additional pilot events for other sports will take place, ahead of a full, socially-distanced return of sporting events, from October 1.

“We welcome the fact that horseracing is to be selected as one of the pilot events to welcome back crowds and my team and I acknowledge the great responsibility upon us,” said Racecourse Association chief executive David Armstrong.

“The safety protocols involved will be stringent and the Goodwood racecourse team are in a fantastic place to implement them.

“The sport has come together to offer support to ensure the pilot event provides us with sufficient learnings, that others may follow in time.

“These learnings will allow us to draft industry-wide protocols for the wider scale return of crowds, as soon as we are able.

“Crowds bring a wonderful atmosphere to a raceday and many businesses associated with racecourses are reliant upon them. “I sincerely hope that all involved enjoy their day. Our focus now turns to supporting the Goodwood team, in what is a landmark day for the sport,” added Armstrong.

The UK government plans to use the pilot events scheme to stress-test their ‘Stage-5’ guidance on the return of spectators to elite sports events.

“For months millions of us have felt the void of being unable to go to the match to support our team or attend a top-class sporting event.

“I am pleased that we are now able to move forward – with a plan to help venues safely reopen their doors to fans.

“I recognise that not every sport, team or club has the benefit of huge commercial revenue, and it is often their dedicated fans that are the lifeblood which helps keep them going.

“By working closely with sports and medical experts, these pilots will help ensure the safe return of fans to stadia.

“Although it will remain some time before venues are full to capacity, this is a major step in the right direction for the resumption of live spectator sport across the country,” said Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston.

“We are delighted that the Qatar Goodwood Festival has been selected as a pilot event for the return of crowds.

“It marks an important day for the sports industry,” said Adam Waterworth, sport managing director at the Goodwood Estate.