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Premier League calls for COVID certificates to fill stadiums

The Premier League has urged the UK government to introduce COVID-19 certificates to allow clubs to fill stadiums from next season.

The league’s executive director Bill Bush appeared before MPs on the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee yesterday (Monday) explaining that social distancing and behind closed door games were “awful for sport.”

Bush said a COVID-status certification scheme would be a “major reassurance,” encouraging the government to set up a scheme for a limited period of time.

Bush told the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee: “Knowing that there’s a fallback which means we can keep on going through the whole season to this time next year would mean that we can plan, invest, recruit staff.

“To know that a tested operational COVID-certification system is available at relatively short notice, would be a major reassurance.”

He told MPs that early findings of the Government’s Events Research Programme saw no “significant increased transmission” with sporting events that trialled the use of COVID-19 certification.

He said: “The report’s yet to be published, but what we hear so far, is that in the present level of prevalence, sporting events – the more outdoor events at least, and I think it’s also true of the indoor events – there’s no significant increased transmission risk from the attendances that have taken place.”

Last week, it was reported that the UK’s Events Research Programme trial events have led to just 15 COVID-19 cases out of more than 58,000 attendees. The Daily Telegraph claimed that the Government-backed research shows that fewer than one in 3,000 attendees of events such as the FA Cup Final and music and conference events in Liverpool have tested positive for COVID-19 afterwards.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is reportedly considering converting the NHS app to a digital COVID-certificate that proves vaccination status or a recent negative test, with plans to introduce it for events after June 21 when most restrictions could be lifted.

According to The Times newspaper, some Premier League clubs are already looking into connecting a digital passport with digital tickets. Bush said that as season ticket holders already use a form of “identity card” to enter stadiums that adding NHS data when scanning tickets would minimise disruption.

He said: “In many, many grounds now you can scan so you’re very, very quickly in. So what we’ll be doing is adding to that person’s existing identity material, in effect, the green tick, which says, ‘The NHS app has got information from vaccination and from testing, which indicates that there’s a high likelihood that they’re not infectious,’ and that would allow us to continue with a degree of scale in attendance.”

Meanwhile, the UK’s Tourism Minister Catherine Martin has said the use of antigen testing for live events is still being considered this summer.

Martin said: “Everything has to be given consideration. We look at what is happening in other countries across Europe. So I think antigen testing is something that should be given consideration in the live events, but we’ll see what Nphet (National Public Health Emergency Team) [says], when I put forward the pilot events and how they might take place.”

Martin’s remarks come after the director of the Aviva Stadium in Dublin said he did not think it was feasible to carry out testing for large events.

Martin Murphy, Aviva Stadium director and a member of the government working group on returning spectators to live sporting events, said: “If the government decides that antigen testing is required everyone would be happy to support that in whatever way we can, but it’s not sustainable once you get into large numbers for sports organisations.”