Brentford and London Irish back our campaign as Parliament prepares to debate return of fans

Brentford and London Irish — who share the new Brentford Community Stadium — are the latest elite sports teams to support the Evening Standard’s Bring Back The Fans campaign.

As Parliament prepares to debate the return of supporters to sport on November 9, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said yesterday that keeping fans away from sport was “positively hateful” but necessary to slow the spread of the virus.

But with close to 200,000 people signing an online petition, Parliament will debate the issue next month.

Brentford started playing behind closed doors at their 17,250 capacity stadium last month, while London Irish will move in when the new Premiership season starts next month. For Irish, this is a permanent return to the capital after 20 years in Reading.

Both clubs face being without any fans until spring, despite pilot events proving supporters can return safely in reduced numbers. That means clubs face a year without their chief income stream and fearing for their future without a Government bailout.

The clubs’ CEOs, Brentford’s Jon Varney and Brian Facer, of Irish, both said they were “fully supportive” of the Standard’s campaign.

Varney said: “This is a challenging time for everyone and the safety of all concerned remains the priority.

“At the same time, we are confident, based on the behind-closed-doors games we’ve held, we have the expertise and experience to put in place the appropriate safety measures with the reduced capacities being suggested.”

Facer described pilot events in rugby as an “unparalleled success” and pointed out the inconsistencies across the events sector. “The power of sport and attending live matches cannot be underestimated,” said Facer.

“Clubs are one of the biggest supply chains in the local community — a force for good many people rely upon.

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“Turning the tap off has huge implications for clubs and consumers of all age ranges. Professional sport provides significant contributions to the public purse and enormous amounts of physical and mental positivity.

“Put simply, sport is nothing without its local community and a local community is nothing without sport. We’re entering a new chapter of our history by returning to the capital and the fans are integral to that. What we do know is that it’s a matter of when, and not if, supporters will be able to come to watch matches.

“We continue to work closely with Brentford and the relevant authorities to ensure plans are in place to welcome our fans in a safe environment. The sooner we’re able to do that, the better.

“It’s not about us or Brentford — it’s about the wider sporting family. When you see other industries given the green light to host events, such as theatres, it makes no sense for stadiums to be any different.”

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