DCMS to single out one FA Cup semi-final for spectator pilot event

Oliver Dowden, the UK’s Culture Secretary, has confirmed that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) will choose one of next month’s FA Cup semi-final ties as a pilot event for the return of spectators.

Either Chelsea versus Manchester City, or Leicester City against Southampton on 17 and 18 May respectively will be selected as part of the trial to get ‘as many people back as safely as possible’ through the turnstiles.

Earlier in the month, the DCMS disclosed that ‘around a dozen’ events would act as a trial run for the large-scale reopening of the UK economy in June as part of the Events Research Programme’s (ERP) pilot project, with the FA Cup final touted as a potential test event.

“The plan is to look at factors like one-way systems, ventilation within a stadium and how you interact in terms of getting to and from the venue,” Dowden told BBC Sport in an interview. 

“So it’s the social distancing that they have from each other. It’s the behavioural factors. We will be testing them before and after to look at spread and look how they behave in the stadium.

“We’re not just chucking everyone into the stadiums, it is being done in a very controlled way and the purpose is to get the rules set can so it can be as safe as possible from the 21 June.”

Although Dowden did not set an exact figure for the amount of fans that will be allowed to attend the ties, according to the BBC report, Wembley Stadium will accommodate up to 4,000 spectators at one of the semi-finals, whilst the Carabao Cup final the following weekend could double that limit.

Furthermore, the DCMS and the Football Association (FA) are in discussions with Brent Council to look into the possibility of hosting 20,000 supporters under the arches for the culmination of the competition at the FA Cup final on 15 May.

As per the government’s four-stage roadmap for exiting lockdown, sporting venues will be allowed to operate at 25% capacity, up to a maximum of 10,000 fans, from 17 May, whilst 21 June has been earmarked as the date for the lifting of all social distancing restrictions.