FA Cup semi-final to be pilot for return of fans after lockdown

An FA Cup semi-final and the World Snooker Championship are to be used as pilot events for the return of fans as coronavirus restrictions in England are eased, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said on Monday.

The nation has entered the second phase of its roadmap out of lockdown thanks in large part to a successful vaccination drive.

Grassroots outdoor sport is now allowed to resume but the further easing of restrictions is dependent on the continued success of the vaccine rollout and infection rates.

One the FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley in April will be among a number of pilot events to trial the return of large crowds.

Chelsea play Manchester City on April 17, with Leicester taking on Southampton the following day.

The FA Cup final and the World Snooker Championship in Sheffield are also on the schedule but a full list of pilot events is yet to be published.

"We want to get as many people back as safely as possible," Dowden told the BBC. "We want to make it as simple and convenient as possible for people. That's why we are conducting these pilots.

"The plan is to look at factors like one-way systems, ventilation within a stadium and how you interact in terms of getting to and from the venue."

Dowden refused to be drawn on how many spectators would be permitted to attend the Wembley semi-final that would be used as a pilot.

The third step of the easing of restrictions, on May 17 at the earliest, would allow stadiums to open with a 25 percent capacity limit, up to a maximum of 10,000 spectators.

The current plan is for all restrictions on social contact to be lifted on June 21.

Wembley is hosting seven Euro 2020 matches, including both semi-finals, on July 6 and 7, and the final on July 11.