'Covid passes' at sport: What does 'Plan B' mean for sport fans in England?

Manchester City fans show their vaccine passports before the Premier League game against Wolves on 11 December
Premier League clubs have been conducting Covid vaccination spot checks before matches in recent weeks

Stricter rules on attending some sports stadiums have been introduced in England from Wednesday - to limit the spread of the new Omicron variant of coronavirus.

'Covid passes' will be needed to get into larger outdoor venues, which affects football fans going to four Premier League matches on Wednesday, along with hundreds of thousands more supporters planning to watch sporting events over the busy Christmas period.

This can be done either with an NHS Covid Pass showing a recent negative test or full vaccination - or an alternative way of showing a negative lateral flow or PCR test within the past 48 hours, such as a text or an email from the NHS.

The new measures come as several top-flight and EFL clubs have reported confirmed cases among players and staff - including outbreaks at Tottenham and Manchester United leading to postponed fixtures.

The tightening of the rules is also set to have an impact on rugby union, rugby league and horse racing - among others - over the coming weeks.

What are the new rules?

The government's 'Plan B' to fight the spread of Omicron was voted through - despite significant opposition from some Conservative MPs - on Tuesday.

For sport, this means:

  • From Wednesday, a 'Covid pass' will be required for visitors to nightclubs, indoor unseated venues with more than 500 people, outdoor unseated venues with more than 4,000 people and any event with more than 10,000 people
  • Face masks will be required in more public settings - including sports stadiums, theatres and cinemas

How do I get a pass?

You can get a Covid pass for domestic use via the NHS Appexternal-link if you're 18 or over, registered with a GP, and meet any of the following conditions:

But fans can also attend events in England if they have an alternative way of showing a negative LFT or PCR test, like a text or an email from the NHS.

What happens at games now?

  • Covid pass checks will be conducted and it is against the law to allow in fans unable to comply
  • a pre-match online Covid registration form must be completed
  • face coverings will be required when travelling to and from matches and when moving around the stadium
  • supporters should not travel to the match if showing Covid symptoms

In recent weeks, Premier League football clubs - which host some of the biggest public events in England - have been doing spot checks on fans' Covid status.

Under the new rules, 20% of fans or more will be spot-checked to show proof of their Covid status. The exact percentage will be decided by local public health authorities in conjunction with clubs.

Brighton face Wolves on Wednesday and their chief executive Paul Barber said: "The government do expect us to carry out more random checking than what we've previously done so there is every chance it will take longer to get in, we'll work efficiently and quickly but our priority is to keep everyone safe."

The tightening of the rules have not meant a return to matches being held behind closed doors, which was a common sight last season.

Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira says it would be a "disaster" if growing Omicron fears forced football to be played again without fans inside the stadium.

Malcolm Clarke, chair of the Football Supporters' Federation, said the "general feeling among fans is accepting this kind of thing is necessary".

Clarke added: "It's a lot better than the alternative of playing games behind closed doors. There's nothing like a live crowd. None of us want to go through what we went through last season.

"We'll just have to live with it. The most important thing is everybody is kept safe."

Which are the first sports events to be affected?

On Wednesday, when the stricter rules are introduced, there are four Premier League matches being played:

  • Arsenal v West Ham
  • Brighton v Wolves
  • Burnley v Watford
  • Crystal Palace v Southampton

Three more Premier League games are taking place on Thursday:

  • Chelsea v Everton
  • Leicester v Tottenham
  • Liverpool v Newcastle
The Premier League's updated Covid rules

A 'Covid pass' will also be required at all Championship games in England from 15-19 December, as well as seven of the 12 League One games and six of the 12 League Two games this week.

However, some clubs such as Carlisle,external-link are capping their capacities at 9,999 - meaning no mandatory requirement for any covid certification or for fans to wear masks.

And there is a full programme set to follow at the weekend as football heads into its busy Christmas and New Year period.

In rugby union, Bath, Harlequins, Leicester and Sale are hosting European Champions Cup matches at the weekend.

Later in December, there is a busy Christmas programme in horse racing, which is always well attended. The centrepiece is the historic King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day (26 December).

In rugby league, traditional Boxing Day fixtures are being played, including Leeds v Wakefield.

Brighton steward wearing a mask
Brighton, who play Wolves on Wednesday, say tickets will be blocked if the holder cannot comply with the new rules

What about the rest of the UK?

In Scotland, fans going to large sporting events must present proof of vaccination, a negative lateral flow or PCR test taken within the last 24 hours, or evidence they are exempt.

However, those going to the Battle of the Brits tennis exhibition - taking place in Aberdeen on 21-22 December and featuring Andy Murray, Jamie Murray and Cameron Norrie - will not have to show proof.

In accordance with Scottish government guidance, the event does not require vaccine passports because the capacity of this seated event is lower than 10,000.

And deputy first minister John Swinney confirmed to BBC Radio Scotland on Tuesday that further curbs on crowds at football games were not among measures being prepared.

Existing restrictions in Wales and Northern Ireland were enforced during recent autumn rugby union internationals and 2022 World Cup football qualifiers.

How will the rules be policed?

Football and rugby clubs have been planning for the logistics of checking vaccination passports, with governing bodies pledging to support those who will need to implement them.

The exact details are still to be finalised by the government and many clubs say these will be sent to ticket holders by email before games.

Fans are being urged to fully read instructions sent out by host clubs and arrive earlier at grounds to account for the checks.

The Premier League says the safety of supporters attending fixtures "remains a priority", while the EFL says clubs have "readily adapted to welcome fans safely".

"We know clubs have been preparing for this additional layer to their matchday operations to ensure supporters can continue to watch their team play with confidence over the winter period," said the EFL.

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