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Exclusive: County cricket aims to be the first sport to allow spectators to attend live matches

County cricket hopes to be the first sport to allow spectators back in for live matches, arguing that it is “uniquely well placed” to be a test case.

Representatives have begun making the case to the Government, saying the nature of the game and the open-air grounds would mitigate risks. Counties hope some crowds can be allowed from near to the start of the season, which is now planned for Aug 1. It is hoped that lessons from reopening grounds could be applied to other sports.

“It’s a fantastic laboratory and test case to work out if there are any operational difficulties with people turning up,” said Tim Bostock, the chief executive of Durham. “You’re not going to start bringing crowds back to Twickenham or Anfield, are you? But you could start with county grounds in the open air. County cricket pretty much ticks every box – it has the lowest risk possible for crowds returning to sport.

“I can’t think of another sport that would be a better test case. We’re going to have to start somewhere, with crowds watching sport. So why not county cricket? That would be my plea for the Government.”

There is growing confidence that robust proposals can be put in place as government restrictions ease. Initially, crowds could be as little as 500-1,000, with numbers then increased if it is shown to be safe.

“If we were to begin the cricket season with first-class cricket in early August, then the crowds that we normally expect would be commensurate with social distancing, particularly if we restricted it to club members only,” said Richard Gould, the chief executive of Surrey. “If we start with first-class cricket we are, as a sport, uniquely well placed to gradually increase spectator numbers through the summer.”

Bostock said that the county game could be flexible in exploring how to introduce crowds. “We can make the numbers fit whatever they need to fit – just to start to get some people watching cricket,” he said. “The fact that we can make it start off with members only – it’s a very controlled environment, and we know exactly who’s coming. The numbers are manageable.”

The design of cricket grounds is considered an important advantage for the sport. Unlike football stadiums – which have significant amounts of covered seating, protecting fans from the elements in winter – cricket grounds are predominantly uncovered. The virus is known to transmit about 20 times more effectively inside rather than outside, so the more open-air environments may be considered a safer place to bring back fans.

“We’re outdoors – and we know the virus doesn’t like that,” Bostock said. “We’ve got huge amounts of space, we’ve got extremely compliant, sensible members.”

The arrival of county spectators is generally more staggered than for other sports, potentially making the logistics of allowing fans in while ensuring social distancing easier to manage.

If modest crowds for first-class matches prove successful, it is hoped that bigger crowds can be permitted for the Twenty20 Blast, which is planned to begin on Aug 28.

Allowing some crowds would also bring wider benefits to county members, Bostock said. “Our average county member, that tends to be a little older, has probably been stuck inside more than most over the past three or four months. There’s a health and well-being angle to get them outside and in some sort of social environments again – I don’t think that should be understated.”


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