The government’s new Covid-19 rules will have significant ramifications for football fans up and down the country, with proof of double vaccination or a negative lateral flow test required to attend sporting events with crowds of more than 10,000 people.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the rules in a press conference on Wednesday as part of the government’s ‘plan B’ to combat the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.
But what exactly will fans need to do on matchdays? And are Premier League clubs ready to implement the changes? We answer the key questions.
What does it mean for me?
To attend a Premier League game, you must now either show proof of double vaccination via the NHS Covid app, or proof of a negative lateral flow test taken inside the previous 48 hours.
The rules are intended to “[help] keep these events and venues open at full capacity while giving everyone who attends them confidence that those around them have done the responsible thing to minimise risk to others,” said the Prime Minister on Wednesday.
When do the rules come into force?
The rules come into force on Wednesday December 15, meaning the four Premier League games taking place that evening – Brighton vs Wolves, Burnley vs Watford, Crystal Palace vs Southampton and Arsenal vs West Ham – will be the first at which they are applied.
How do I get a Covid pass?
Fans can get a domestic Covid pass via the NHS Covid app if they are 18 or over, registered with a GP, and meet any of the following criteria:
- It has been at least two weeks since their second vaccination (or single Jansen dose).
- They have returned a negative PCR or lateral flow test result in the past 48 hours and reported it on the NHS website (this pass is valid for 48 hours after the result).
- They have had a positive PCR test result in the past six months and finished self-isolating (this pass lasts for 180 days).
Those fans who are not fully vaccinated will be able to show proof of a recent negative lateral flow test instead of proof of vaccination.
What happens if fans do not comply?
Fans who fail to provide proof of double vaccination or proof of a negative lateral flow test will not be allowed access to the stadium.
Will fans need to wear masks?
As every single Premier League stadium is classed as an outdoor venue, along with those of all other professional football clubs in England, Wales and Scotland, wearing a mask will not be required when ‘plan B’ comes into effect.
Will clubs really be able to police it?
Premier League clubs hold regular discussions about what future measures might be required and have been working towards this scenario for several months, according to Sky Sports News.
The new measures place a lot of responsibility on the fans, who will be expected to arrive at the stadium with readily accessible Covid passes or confirmation of negative lateral flow test result on email or text message.
Clubs are still waiting for finer details about the impact of the new measures, in terms of how they can ensure verification, but some, such as Tottenham, Chelsea and Brighton have already made Covid passes mandatory while several others have been spot-checking supporters.
At Brighton, stewards have been trained to check and understand what to look for on an NHS Covid pass and also recognise a valid lateral flow test result.
The extra costs involved terms of time and stewarding manpower will be picked up by the individual clubs but those clubs have already prepared for the logistical challenges posed by the new rules.
Will fans need to arrive earlier?
While there is no official government advice regarding arrival times for fans, it may be necessary to be at the stadium earlier than usual given the verification process is likely to mean longer, slower-moving queues.
‘It will be difficult… but clubs are prepared’
Sky Sports News reporter Kaveh Kolhekol: “Premier League clubs have been working very hard behind the scenes to prepare themselves for the possibility of the so-called vaccine passport being introduced.
“Logistically it is going to be difficult; you’re going to need more stewards to check that everyone has a vaccination certificate, you’re going to need to check that those who don’t do have a negative lateral flow test.
“It’s going to be more complicated but a lot of work has already been done – Premier League clubs have prepared for this.
“The advice has always been that if you’ve been going to Premier League matches this season, you should have proof of vaccination or a negative test in the previous 48 hours.
“The difference is from next Wednesday, if you’re going to a Premier League or Championship game – games where there is going to be more than 10,000 people, you have to have proof of your certificate or a negative test – otherwise you won’t be getting into the game.”
Could games go behind closed doors again?
There are currently no plans in place to reduce crowd sizes and the hope is that the new measures will prevent the need for stricter regulations – especially given the financial implications on clubs.
“That is something that clubs definitely do not want to happen,” added Solhekol. “Last time that football closed down it ended up costing the clubs in England something like £2bn.”
Should vaccination be mandatory?
Premier League managers have been giving their verdicts on the possibility of making vaccination mandatory.
West Ham manager David Moyes: “I know that people have a right to make their own choices and I respect that.
“But I actually think it’s something now which we would seriously have to consider because if I was a supporter, I really would want to go to a game next to someone who I knew had been vaccinated.”
Spurs boss Antonio Conte gave an emotional press conference on Wednesday afternoon, revealing the worsening situation had left everyone “a bit scared” and worried for their families.
Fellow Italian coach Claudio Ranieri feels players should take up the offer of a vaccine but accepts it is a personal choice.
“I think the more important thing is all the players must be vaccinated, because we play every three days now and meet a lot of players,” said the Watford boss.
“It is important, the vaccine, because if something happens with the vaccine it is very slow – without the vaccine, it is a big risk.
“I understand Conte and I hope here in Watford everything continues to be OK.”
Ranieri added: “Of course I have to respect everybody, but they must know that we stay together and if they then come (with the virus), they can infect something, so then it is important that everybody must be vaccinated.”
The Italian does not know how many of his Watford squad have been vaccinated, but is confident the club’s own Covid-19 protocols are robust.
“We have to continue in this way, it is very important to maintain the correct distance and make a Covid test every two days and go with a mask,” Ranieri said.
Malcolm Clarke, chair of the FSA, said: “From the earliest days of the pandemic we have always said that supporters should follow the expert advice of medical professionals and scientists.
“If those experts feel that public health is best-served by the introduction of vaccine passports or lateral flow tests for all large outdoor events, then we accept that requirement.
“We’d encourage clubs to work with local fan groups to ensure that any new procedures run smoothly and those with genuine medical exemptions are supported.”