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October plan for return of fans to UK stadiums set for delay


LONDON (Reuters) - Plans for the controlled return of fans into U.K. sports stadiums from Oct. 1 are set to be postponed, senior cabinet minister Michael Gove said on Tuesday as new restrictions are brought in to tackle a second wave of COVID-19.

"It was the case that we were looking at a staged programme of more people returning, it wasn't going to be the case that we were going to have stadiums thronged with fans," Gove told BBC TV when asked if the Oct. 1 plan would go ahead.

"We're looking at how we can for the moment pause that programme.

"We've been piloting some open air venues and we do want to be able in due course to allow people to return to watch football and other sporting events but it is the case that we just need to be cautious at the moment and I think a mass reopening at this stage wouldn't be appropriate."

The government had been planning to allow 25-33% capacities from Oct. 1, giving sports a funding boost after months of empty stadiums.

Confirmation of the change of tack is expected to come later on Tuesday but local media reported sports' governing bodies are resigned to it and are preparing a request for more financial help.

The Rugby Football Union had hoped to have around 20,000 fans at Twickenham for England's game against the Barbarians on Oct. 25 but have now suspended ticket sales.

Although the risk of spreading the virus sitting at outdoor stadiums is considered relatively low, the bigger concern is the amount of time crowds will be close together travelling to and from events, and entering the stadiums and refreshment areas.

"The virus is less likely to spread outdoors than indoors but then again it's in the nature of sporting events that there's a lot of mingling," Gove said.

"We also recognise that sport is a vital part of the life of this nation and we're looking at everything that we can do to support our athletes, our great clubs through what will be a challenging time."

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, Sarah Young and Mitch Phillips; editing by Michael Holden/Peter Rutherford)

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