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Irish involvement as Brighton friendly and Super League clash among test events for return of fans in England

Sporting events will welcome a limited number of spectators over the coming weeks.

Aaron Connolly and his Brighton team-mates.
Aaron Connolly and his Brighton team-mates.
Image: Alex Livesey

A WOMEN’S SUPER League fixture between West Ham and Arsenal, plus a men’s football friendly at Brighton, are among a list of sporting events which will welcome a limited number of spectators.

Britain’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) confirmed a raft of new events where spectators would be admitted on a socially-distanced basis, following the ban on mass gatherings introduced in March due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The events, which cover football, rugby union, horse racing, cricket, basketball and speedway, will take place over the course of the remainder of this month and September.

The WSL fixture between the Hammers and the Gunners on 12 September is among the pilot events, along with a Brighton men’s pre-season friendly against Chelsea this Saturday and a Lewes v London Bees women’s friendly the following day.

Irish international duo Leanne Kiernan and Courtney Brosnan would fly the flag for West Ham, while captain Katie McCabe would be in action for Arsenal. Elsewhere, Aaron Connolly and Shane Duffy could be among the Irish involved for the Seagulls in their pre-season friendly.

Non-league finals day at Wembley on 20 September will also admit a limited number of spectators, DCMS said.

Brighton later confirmed on their official website that they are making 2,500 tickets available to season ticket holders and members of their 1901 Club for Chelsea’s visit, which will kick-off at the Amex Stadium at 3pm.

The Gallagher Premiership fixture between Harlequins and Bath at the Twickenham Stoop on 5 September has been selected, as have racing meetings at Doncaster (the St Leger on 9 September), Warwick on 21 September and Newmarket on 24 September.

Cricket matches in the Bob Willis Trophy and Vitality Blast are set for selection, with specific fixtures still to be confirmed.

A British Basketball League friendly in Newcastle on 18 September will also feature spectators, as will a speedway event at Ipswich on 26 September.

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DCMS secretary of state Oliver Dowden said: “I know fans and their teams can’t wait to be reunited in stadia across the country, but it’s imperative we take a cautious and phased approach to get fans back in safely.

I’m pleased that infection rates have levelled off enough to resume the pilot programme and we will continue to work intensively with sports, medical and health and safety experts towards welcoming more fans back as fast as we can.”

The plan remains for spectators to be allowed back into sports venues in limited numbers more widely from 1 October as part of the Covid-19 road map to recovery.

The pilot events were put on hold on 31 July, which meant plans to allow spectators in on each day of the World Snooker Championship and for crowds to attend the Glorious Goodwood horse-racing festival on August 1 had to be scrapped.

They were allowed back in for the conclusion of the snooker event on 15 and 16 August.

However, proposals to allow Celtic’s home match against Motherwell on Sunday to go ahead with fans in the stadium have been rejected by the Scottish Government.

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