Sports events could be restricted to crowds of just 500 people if the coronavirus outbreak continues to escalate, under emergency plans drawn up by the government.
The governing bodies of major sports were briefed about the contingency earlier this week and have been summoned to a meeting of the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on Monday to discuss the logistical implications of limiting attendances.
The government’s official advice that there is no need to limit mass gatherings remains unchanged, but their position is under constant review and sports bodies have been warned that substantial restrictions on attendances may become necessary.
There is no timeframe for introducing any changes, although the position may become clearer on Monday.
Capping crowds at just 500 people, which at many events would only cover operational and broadcasting staff, was one proposal discussed last week.
The FA, Premier League and EFL held talks last week about staging matches behind closed doors if the government prohibit large gatherings, as reported by Sportsmail, and it is understood that other sports are having similar discussions.
England’s football international friendly against Italy at Wembley later this month is in doubt due to restrictions placed on people arriving from Italy — a problem that limiting the crowd would not alleviate — while the pre-match fair play handshake will not take place before any Premier League or EFL matches this weekend on public health grounds.
Racing officials are open to staging meetings behind closed doors in order to ensure the sport does not lose revenue from betting markets, with the issue of private meetings being discussed by the industry-wide Covid-19 Steering Group this week.
In addition to the obvious desire to fulfil the fixture list, racing has the issue of its reliance on betting for revenue, with the gambling levy putting £78 million back into the sport last year.
The Cheltenham Festival is due to go ahead as planned in front of sell-out crowds next week, but there are fears over whether the Grand National meeting at Aintree next month will be able to take place as normal.
Private meetings have been staged in France, Hong Kong and Japan in recent weeks as a result of coronavirus. – Online