Crowds of up to 10,000 could be allowed back into English soccer stadiums from mid-May, under a plan outlined by the British Government to ease COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.
From May 17, under the third stage of the four-stage 'roadmap', stadiums will - if all conditions are met - be allowed to hold up to 50 percent of their capacity or 4000 people, whichever is lower.
A special provision will be made for large outdoor, seated venues, so they can open their doors to up to 10,000 people or 25 percent of the capacity, whichever is lower.
"The turnstiles of our sports stadia will once again rotate," Prime Minister Boris Johnson says.
Stadiums in some parts of England briefly opened their doors to a limited number of fans in December, but the Government launched another national lockdown, after a new wave of COVID-19 infections.
With infections falling after the introduction of the latest lockdown and the start of a vaccination campaign, stadiums may now host fans before the end of the football season.
The move will come too late for the FA Cup final, scheduled for May 15 at Wembley, but the last weekend of the Premier League season is May 23 and the Football League promotion playoff finals take place from May 29-31.
The Football Association welcomes the news.
"The FA is absolutely delighted fans will be allowed back soon," it says. "The game is simply not the same without them, and we look forward to the return of full stadia as soon as it is safe and possible."
The first stage of the easing of lockdown restrictions will allow the return of school sports from March 8.
From March 29, the second phase will permit the re-opening of outdoor facilities, such as tennis courts and golf courses.
The plan depends on four conditions being met:
- the vaccine programme must go to plan
- data must prove there is a reduction in the number of people dying with the virus or needing hospital treatment
- there must be no surge in infection rates
- new coronavirus variants must not heighten the risks of allowing the re-opening of society.