Yorkshire CCC facing loss of ‘several hundred thousand pounds’ after ‘Freedom Day’ delay

YORKSHIRE are facing losses of “several hundred thousand pounds” after a four-week delay to ‘Freedom Day’.

Yorkshire fans back inside Headingley this season. Picture: PA

The club had hoped to welcome back full crowds from next week only for the government to put on hold the final stage of its coronavirus road map.

The decision – implemented due to rising cases of the Delta variant – directly impacts Yorkshire’s two-biggest home games of the season: the T20 Blast match against Lancashire at Emerald Headingley on July 2, and the four-day County Championship fixture against the same opponents at Scarborough from July 11.

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It also affects the T20 international between England and Pakistan at Headingley on July 18 – one day before the new date for unlocking.

Headingley stadium, Leeds. Picture: PA

Mark Arthur, the Yorkshire chief executive, last night branded the government’s U-turn on plans to remove all legal restrictions on social contact from next Monday, which would have paved the way for the return of full crowds at cricket grounds, as “illogical”.

“It’s likely to cost us several hundred thousand pounds, and at this moment in time we don’t know what level of financial support we might receive from the England and Wales Cricket Board,” he said.

“We’re bitterly disappointed, and we simply can’t understand why, in an open-air facility such as Emerald Headingley, and with the vast majority of our supporters having already received two jabs, that we can’t safely accommodate the return of full crowds.

“Our protocols, led by our operations director Sam Hinchliffe, have been excellent throughout, and why is the government favouring a one-size-fits-all solution?

Yorkshire chief executive Mark Arthur.

“It seems illogical to me that 10,000-20,000 people, in an open-air facility, wearing masks if necessary whilst in their seats, cannot go about their normal life, and it will certainly have a major impact on us.”

Under current Covid capacity restrictions, Headingley can accommodate around 4,500 fans, 25 per cent of capacity. Both the T20 international and T20 Roses game are 18,000 sell-outs.

It is unclear how many spectators will be allowed to watch the Roses match at Scarborough, with North Marine Road officials currently liaising with an architect working on behalf of the ECB to work out reduced capacity provision.

The Scarborough club estimates that it may be permitted crowds of 2,500-4,000 per day, and that it will lose anything from £30,000-£75,000 due to a reduced attendance.

Bill Mustoe, of the Scarborough CC management board, said: “We’re currently working through things, but it will have a serious impact, and it’s obviously a huge disappointment considering that it’s our biggest County Championship match here for decades.

“It has the added spice of Lancashire having beaten Yorkshire at Old Trafford recently, and this is the return fixture with just a few points between the two teams at the top of the table.

“It’s a huge match, and the other problem is that in order to manage Covid, you also need more stewards, so costs go up substantially.”

Yorkshire last night announced that their ticket rollback scheme will now come into force, which prioritises members who have bought tickets down to general sale purchasers.

The club will contact all ticket holders as soon as it has received clarification from the ECB that there are no changes to the current capacity restrictions.

As with much of the government’s coronavirus strategy, incoherent and inconsistent, the situation was last night mired in confusion, with various counties releasing holding statements that reflected their uncertainty as to how many spectators could attend their games before July 19.

There was also exasperation – not least at Yorkshire, and to put it in the most mildest terms – that some sports and sporting events seem to have received special dispensation, with the Wimbledon tennis finals on July 10/11 to be played in front of capacity crowds and the latter stages of the Euro 2020 football tournament in front of 50 per cent capacity.

Whether cricket will form part of 20 so-called pilot events across sport and entertainment that will further test the safe return of large crowds remains to be seen, but no one at Yorkshire is holding their breath.

“We’ve all been working towards this date of June 21, so why give us that date in the first place?” added Arthur. “We’ve been working towards it, we’ve shuffled the fixtures around; originally we were supposed to have a Lancashire game in June and we were able to shuffle that around.

“It seems that every time we try and find a solution another problem rears its head that is not of our making. There’s no option to move the games now because it’s a phenomenally packed season.”

Yorkshire return to T20 action tonight when they host Leicestershire at Headingley.