Compiled using sources from the UK Government, the Sports Grounds Safety Authority, and consultants who work in the security and fire sphere, explores the issues involved in returning spectators to sports grounds.

11 August 2020

'It’s a harsh fact but the problems besetting risk management in the phased return of sports events under current social-distancing guidelines are, by definition, likely to resist clear-cut solutions, given that the terms of reference will continue to shift as official public safety protocols develop. Yet, when the stakes are so high, how do sports venues manage the risks of COVID safeguarding and the need to bring attendance back to venues for practical business reasons?

Crowd circulation systems

Crowd-behaviour modelling and predictive simulations inform current research to supplement the huge body of regulatory instruction that exists for maintaining safe ingress and egress routes in places of public assembly. Critically, pre-Covid regulation will be examined with care for its relationship to the current circumstances.

A thought-provoking example – Route Capacity – may be considered in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order’s “Risk Assessments for Large Places of Assembly”: “The capacity of an escape route is measured by the number of persons per minute that can pass through it . . .”

By contrast, the SGSA Guide draws attention to the complexities of “phased egress designed to assist in compliance with social distancing.” These factors are further compounded by flow hindered by slow moving lines of spectators resulting in possible congestion, itself a breach of social distancing. This is but one complex scenario fully explored in the SGSA guide, with detailed projections of cases where, for example, redirection of spectators along different routes can resolve the problems of crowd intensity and ‘pinch-points’.

The SGSA also cites additional fire safety measures could include a fire marshal stationed next to a fire door that needs to remain open for circulation reasons, but would have to be closed in the event of a fire.

In the final analysis, however, the SGSA Supplementary Guidance recommends that “in the event of an emergency, standard operational procedures for emergency egress should be followed and may take precedence over social distancing requirements.”

Logistical challenges

The question of hygiene is yet another factor for concern. Even assuming the safe passage of fans through a sports ground there remains the hazard of contagion and SGSA states: “It is inevitable that as people circulate around the ground they will touch a variety of different surfaces such as barriers, hand rails, grab rails and doors. It is therefore vital that management puts into place measures for the regular cleaning of such surfaces during an event.”

In an ironic twist, ESSMA, the European Stadium & Safety Management Association, draws attention to the reality of those stadiums transformed into test centres and field hospitals in response to COVID-19. ESSMA concedes fans will have the last word. “As long as there is no vaccine, 90% of respondents say they will be unwilling to return to stadiums.”

Ultimately, this could prompt a complete overhaul of a venue’s Operations Manual. However, such a demanding revision of a fire protection system, for example, clearly requires time and resources.

Alan Meyrick, Security Consultant, SGW Safety & Security Ltd, outlines some of the ramifications of risk management at sports venues likely to be encountered. “Additionally, how are staff assembly points, or assembly points in general, going to change in terms of location, spatial consideration and management? Will venue operators have to allocate a larger area and do they have the spatial requirements to ensure social distancing is maintained and apply the correct hygiene measures whilst people assemble?

“Spectators will likely just leave the stadium and not be required to assemble, however, staff and other venue personnel would need to assemble and then re-enter. Would venue operators have to apply a re-screening process? This poses time and logistical challenges, despite the anticipated reduction in staffing and spectator numbers.”

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