Locking out cricket followers is illogical blasts Yorkshire CCC chief

YORKSHIRE chief executive Mark Arthur believes it is farcical that cricket supporters cannot attend county games when the season starts next week, branding the government’s policy illogical and detrimental to the health and well-being of the sport’s loyal followers.

Frustrated: Mark Arthur.

No spectators will be allowed entry until at least May 17 as part of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, meaning that the first six County Championship rounds will be played behind closed doors.

Yorkshire start their season against Glamorgan at Emerald Headingley on Thursday and should that roadmap proceed without obstacle, their first fixture in front of crowds would be against Lancashire at Old Trafford (May 27-30).

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Yorkshire’s first home game in front of fans would be against Sussex at Headingley (June 3-6), when they would be permitted up to 25 per cent capacity (around 4,000 people, with Headingley operating at a slightly reduced capacity at present due to the Covid protocols).

Waiting to return: Spectators at Headingley. Picture: Tony Johnson

There are hopes that full crowds will be able to return from June 21, when the government plans to lift all limits on social contact in the final part of its roadmap strategy.

But Arthur feels it is unacceptable that Yorkshire’s supporters, along with those up-and-down the country, cannot attend fixtures from the get-go, particularly as more than 30 million adults have already been vaccinated and people can once more meet again outdoors.

“I just don’t understand the government’s logic,” said Arthur. “Basic commonsense would say that if you can go and sit in a park with five friends around you, meeting up in groups of six, then why can’t you sit in an open-air cricket ground, socially-distanced from anyone who is not in your own household, watching the cricket?

“We’re all understanding of health and well-being, but people are not applying logic to this situation. The average age of our members is 69, and by the time the season starts the majority of them will have had one if not two vaccinations.

Deckchair followers: At North Marine Road, Scarborough. Picture: Tony Johnson

“Many of them will have been locked up in their own houses for a year now, and here’s an opportunity for them to come out into some fresh air, socially-distanced, to do something they enjoy. Surely that’s going to help their health and well-being.

“At the moment, you can sit on a bus, go into a supermarket, non-essential retail is about to re-open and yet you can’t sit out in the open air watching a game of cricket.

“I’m massively disappointed for our supporters and for cricket fans in general.”

Yorkshire asked through the England and Wales Cricket Board if they could be involved in so-called spectator pilots to help facilitate the safe return of full crowds later in the year.

Despite apparently being tailor-made for such trials, no Championship pilots have been given the green light, although other sports such as football and snooker are set to benefit.

It is understood that there could be up to 4,000 spectators at one of the Wembley FA Cup semi-finals over the weekend of April 17/18, and potentially double that for the Carabao Cup final on April 25.

The possibility of having 20,000 fans at the FA Cup final on May 15 is being discussed by the Football Association and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), while fans are also set to be part of a pilot scheme at the World Snooker Championship in Sheffield, which begin on April 17.

“We asked if we could do a pilot but, unfortunately, it wasn’t possible,” said Arthur. “I just don’t understand how hundreds of people can pile into shops (from April 12) and yet we can’t have a couple of thousand people littered around an 18,000 open-air cricket ground adhering to social distancing.

“I’m not trying to play politics. I just think supporters are getting a raw deal and we seem to be hitting our heads against a brick wall.”

Arthur’s frustration is felt across the game, with the ECB open to any measure necessary to get fans back into grounds.

This could even include spectators having to prove that they have been vaccinated through what have been described as Covid passports.

Neil Snowball, the ECB managing director of county cricket, said: “There has been a lot of talk. We have gone from no passports to suddenly now looking at a Covid certification. We will explore anything that enables us to get our members back and our spectators back.”

Referring to the prospect of full crowds down the line, Snowball said: “If you look at June 21, it is going to be a question of balancing three things – one, if there is going to be some sort of passport or Covid certification, the second is testing, and the third is some sort of social distancing, and we have said we will do whatever we are asked to do to make sure we can get the maximum number of people back.

“We are trying to be as optimistic as we can about June 21. The demand for tickets has been huge, and venues will be trying to get the maximum crowds in.”

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