The Premier League returns this weekend for the 2021-22 campaign and clubs are preparing for the return of capacity crowds for the first time since March 2020.
The easing of coronavirus restrictions will see stadiums have no social distancing measures in place in the stands.
However, there remains uncertainty on whether ‘vaccine passports’ will be introduced from October 2021.
Football Supporters’ Association chairman Malcolm Clarke warned introducing such measures could cause “chaos” at some clubs.
Earlier this week, the Premier League revealed new matchday protocols for the 2021-22 season, stating fans “must be prepared to prove” they are fully vaccinated or have had a negative Covid-19 test in the previous 48 hours.
The league is preparing in case it becomes mandatory for all supporters to have their Covid status checked.
So how will the experience differ for supporters?
BBC Sport looks at the current guidance, the changes that have been made and what clubs are doing to allow the return of capacity crowds.
What do the Premier League protocols say?
- Supporters could face random spot-checks of their Covid-19 status
- This means proof of full vaccination or a recent negative lateral flow test
- Supporters must follow a new ‘supporter code of conduct’ which includes wearing masks indoors, avoiding close contact and following one-way systems.
While it is not yet mandatory to check supporters’ Covid-19 status, Chelsea became the first top-flight club to announce fans would need proof of being fully vaccinated or a recent negative Covid-19 test result in order to attend games at Stamford Bridge.
Stewards will check the Covid-19 status of fans at the “point of entry”.
The criteria will apply for men’s and women’s games involving the club.
Tottenham and Brighton trialled the same system during pre-season friendlies ahead of any potential rule changes.
What is each club doing?
Here’s a club-by-club guide:
No mandatory Covid-19 checks, but the Gunners will follow the current Premier League guidelines, including potential spot checks.
As part of the club’s efforts to “prepare fans for potential future entry procedures”, Arsenal have asked supporters to be prepared to prove their Covid-19 status if asked.
Yet to respond.
No mandatory Covid-19 checks, but Brentford will follow the current Premier League guidelines, including potential spot checks.
No mandatory Covid-19 checks, but Burnley will follow the current Premier League guidelines. Supporters are being encouraged to wear face coverings and bring photo ID with them to the stadium.
In anticipation of likely mandatory stadium entry requirements from 1 October 2021, Brighton are requesting proof of Covid-19 status for all supporters entering the Amex Stadium.
Both home and away fans aged 18 and over will be asked to produce an NHS Covid pass or proof of a negative lateral flow test, alongside photographic ID.
Checks will take place at stadium perimeter check points to allow supporters to enter the external concourses and then proceed to the turnstiles.
“This will allow us to review and, where necessary, to refine or update our stadium entry process in time for likely mandatory requirements with effect from 1 October 2021,” said the club.
All supporters attending home games at Stamford Bridge this season will need to provide proof of full Covid-19 vaccination – with both doses received at least 14 days prior to the match attending – or proof of a negative lateral flow test within 48 hours of kick-off.
Proof of vaccination can be supplied via the NHS Covid pass on the NHS app, or via an NHS vaccination letter (or US or European equivalent).
Supporters displaying a negative lateral flow test result can do so on the NHS app or via a text message or email from NHS test and trace.
Stewards will be checking each supporter’s Covid-19 status on entry to the stadium.
Yet to respond.
No mandatory Covid-19 checks, but Everton will follow the current Premier League guidelines, including potential spot checks.
The club is “strongly encouraging” supporters over the age of 12 to take a lateral flow test 48 hours before each fixture and has released a set of matchday FAQs for fans’ return to Goodison Park.
No mandatory Covid-19 checks, but Leeds will follow the current Premier League guidelines, including potential spot checks.
No mandatory Covid-19 checks, but Leicester will follow the current Premier League guidelines, including potential spot checks.
They haveh advised all supporters to take lateral flow tests at home before attending each fixture, as well as wearing face coverings when in any indoor area of the stadium.
All supporters are being encouraged to have a Covid-19 test at least 24 hours prior to kick-off.
During pre-season, the club trialled a new stadium entry process, using digital technology only and ‘Print@Home’ tickets. The change has been introduced to “increase safety at football stadiums and reduce physical contact through tickets”.
Kick-off was delayed at both pre-season games held at Anfield due to “supporter entry rates being slower than usual”.
The club has published a matchday checklist for fans returning Anfield and committed to updating supporters on any further changes ahead of their first home fixture on Saturday 21 August.
Yet to respond.
No mandatory Covid-19 checks, but Manchester United will follow the current Premier League guidelines, including potential spot checks.
“The club is in the process of reviewing its operational procedures and policies to accommodate the proposed checks, along with any implications for fans and staff,” said a club statement.
“Following this, and after consultation with our fan groups, we will confirm details of how the measures will work and at which future home game they will begin. Checks will not take place at our home game against Leeds United this Saturday.”
No mandatory Covid-19 checks, but Newcastle will follow the current Premier League guidelines, including potential spot checks.
Supporters have been advised by the club to download the NHS app in order to display their Covid-19 pass.
No mandatory Covid-19 checks, but Norwich will follow the current Premier League guidelines, including potential spot checks.
The club has advised supporters to continue to wear face masks in indoor areas and concourses.
No mandatory Covid-19 checks, but Southampton will follow the current Premier League guidelines, including potential spot checks.
Supporters must also wear a face covering when queuing to enter the stadium and at all times in the stadium until sat in their seats.
All supporters attending home games at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium this season will need to provide proof of full Covid-19 vaccination or proof of a negative lateral flow test within 48 hours of kick-off.
The Spurs code of conduct asks all supporters to download the NHS app to verify the vaccination or their Covid-19 status.
The process was trialled in a pre-season friendly with Arsenal and will be in place for the 2021-22 Premier League season.
No mandatory Covid-19 checks, but Watford will follow the current Premier League guidelines, including potential spot checks.
No mandatory Covid-19 checks, but West Ham will follow the current Premier League guidelines, including potential spot checks.
The club provided an update on supporter access earlier this week.
No mandatory Covid-19 checks, but Wolves will follow the current Premier League guidelines, including potential spot checks.
What is the EFL doing?
The EFL has issued its own supporters’ code of conduct to clubs, to be implemented as each club sees fit based on stadium capacity.
More than 380,000 fans attended an EFL game on the opening weekend last week.
League One Sunderland recorded the highest crowd as 31,549 attended the Stadium of Light for their 2-1 win over Wigan.
With 25 of the EFL’s 72 clubs having a stadium capacity of 20,000 or more, the EFL is asking clubs to consider how the introduction of mandatory Covid-19 status checks might impact matchday operations.
Ipswich Town are one EFL club to have enforced proof of full Covid-19 vaccination or a negative lateral flow test upon entry to Portman Road.
More than 21,000 supporters attended Ipswich’s game with Morecambe on the opening day.
As part of the guidance issued by the EFL, clubs are also encouraged to remind supporters to follow the current government guidance – as well as get vaccinated.
What has been the reaction to possible ‘Covid passports’?
“I’m not convinced all football clubs will be able to manage that in a way that doesn’t cause some chaos,” said FSA chairman, Malcolm Clarke.
He also said fans with season tickets who are unable or unwilling to attend matches because of vaccine passports should be “entitled” to a refund, and those who are medically exempt should not be prevented from going.
“There are some specific issues and that’s why it’s important that, at both national level and club level, supporters’ groups are involved in the consultation.”
Mark Palios, former Football Association chief executive and current chairman of League Two Tranmere Rovers, believes mandatory certification may be unwelcome from a financial perspective, but clubs will do it “if it’s the right thing to do”.
Following the release of this season’s matchday protocols, the Premier League has insisted it will “continue consulting with all key stakeholders, including the Football Supporters’ Association, and will be running a series of fan-engagement campaigns to help all ticket-holders ensure they are match ready”.
It will also continue “working with clubs to introduce Covid-19 status checks in a staged way so there is the least disruption and maximum safety possible”.
Following Chelsea’s announcement of mandatory checks at Stamford Bridge, Dan Silver, of Chelsea Supporters’ Trust, believes the reaction has been positive and the process has “worked quite well so far”.
“We’ve all missed football so much and we all want to get back to a full capacity stadium this weekend,” he said.
“There’s a general feeling of it’s what we need to do to get back in again. There’s been a positive reaction. People have had their various documentation ready and it’s been a fairly swift entry into the stadium.
“The lateral flow test is a compromise for those who feel they don’t need or want the vaccine.”
It is of course possible safety measures for matches could be subject to change at short notice.
What are the government’s plans for October 2021?
The government removed all restrictions on capacity limits – including social distancing measures – on 19 July. These are now decided at local level.
Prime Minister Johnson announced last month there was a plan to mandate certification at “venues where large crowds gather”, thought to be sports venues with capacities of 20,000 or more. However, there is doubt whether proof of vaccination will be required from October 2021 under the current plans being considered.
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