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British Government Calls Talk of Barring Fans From Matches “Premature”

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There remains a widespread belief that sooner or later Premier League games will be played behind closed doors.

Chelsea FC v Liverpool FC - FA Cup Fifth Round Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

With Italy moving to cancel all sporting events until April 3rd and coronavirus outbreak hotspots around Europe, there is a growing belief that it’s not a question of it but when the Premier League will be forced to play matches without fans.

For Liverpool, on the verge of winning their first title in 30 years, it’s a seeming inevitability that brings with it questions—questions about whether the club’s fans will be there to witness it, and questions about any subsequent parade or celebration.

However, at least in the immediate future, it appears likely that the games will be played as usual with the fans in attendance based on statements today from Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, who spoke to the BBC about the ongoing situation.

“At this stage we’re not in the territory of cancelling or postponing events,” Dowden noted—though there are plans for sports governing bodies and broadcasters to meet the government this week to discuss options should the situation worsen.

Currently, there are 319 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United Kingdom, a rise of 46 over the past 24 hours. By comparison, in Italy the number of confirmed cases has risen sharply to 7,375 over the past few days, with 366 confirmed deaths.

Italy has imposed a travel ban in the north in addition to cancelling sporting events for the month. Meanwhile, France has banned gatherings of more than 1,000 people, which will mean no fans in attendance for tomorrow’s PSG-Dortmund match.

“There is no reason why people should not be going to those events,” Dowden added of the situation in England. “It is very premature to be talking about things like that. We will be driven by the advice of the chief medical officer as we continue.

“I do want to emphasise in relation to sporting events, any talk of cancellation is very premature indeed. At the moment there is no evidence to suggest we should be doing that and we don’t have any plans to.”