Dafydd Elis-Thomas MS, Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism
In recent weeks some of our professional sportspeople have returned to training. Sport is their livelihood and the sports field is their workplace; we have lived in hope that at some point during the lockdown competitive professional sport would resume, albeit behind closed doors initially.
The Welsh Government has been clear that the resumption of professional sports behind closed doors is allowed under our Coronavirus regulations. We have been working with the National Governing Bodies of sport to develop an overall approach for the return of all sport in Wales, both at community, elite and professional level. We have already seen horse-racing return with the fixture at Chepstow earlier this week and more sports will resume, initially behind closed doors, over coming weeks and months.
The English Football League (EFL) announced that the 2019/20 Championship season would re-start behind closed doors on 20 June. Following discussions between the relevant authorities, including South Wales Police and the United Kingdom Football Policing Unit (UKFPU), it has been agreed that both Cardiff City FC and Swansea City AFC will restart their season on the weekend of 20/21 June. Both clubs have nine games remaining with Cardiff having five games at home and Swansea with four. Swansea will travel to Middlesbrough on 20 June, while Cardiff will host Leeds the following day.
Both clubs’ stadium managers have comprehensive risk assessments and operational plans in place that were strictly governed and overseen by the EFL. It has been agreed that all fixtures will be behind closed doors at the usual home club venue and this will be enforced strictly as ‘spectator free’ events with only essential staff permitted into designated areas of each stadium.
Players and match day staff will be subjected to a regular temperature and Covid-19 testing regime with effective social distancing measures in place. Players and staff are tested twice weekly with the costs covered by the clubs themselves. Each club has to follow the phased regulations put in place by the EFL in relation to travel to each fixture, with recommendations such as players traveling independently to each fixture in their own vehicle and not arriving more than 60 minutes prior to kick off. Clubs are making their own arrangements with hotels where overnight accommodation is required and social distancing can be maintained.
South Wales Police will support each club in implementing their respective safety and security plans for the first two home fixtures and will review the impact on local policing and the wider community following these games.
I know there will be a lot of people across Wales who have eagerly awaited the return of professional sport to our lives and that it will provide a welcome distraction to the challenges we are facing during the Coronavirus pandemic. However, it is crucial for the safety and wellbeing of everyone and the successful completion of the EFL Championship season that people adhere to the existing Coronavirus regulations that prohibit mass gatherings. Fans should not travel to away games and should stay away from the stadiums on home match days.
To help prevent mass gatherings during both clubs’ remaining fixtures and encourage fans to stay away from the stadiums, many of the remaining fixtures will be broadcast on television, and the clubs’ streaming service for season ticket holders. Cardiff City have been selected for their first two fixtures to be shown live on Sky Sports and the broadcaster will show 30 of the remaining 108 Championship matches, including the play-offs.
With both clubs still, mathematically, in the hunt for promotion, I would like to offer them my best wishes for a safe and successful restart to their EFL Championship season.