The UK Government is planning for the safe return of spectators to live sport from October 2020. Movement Strategies has been commissioned by the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA) to support the evaluation of social distancing measures at a series of upcoming pilot sporting events to enable the safe re-opening of sports venues in the future.

Movement Strategies, a subsidiary of GHD and leading people movement and crowd dynamics consultancy, has been commissioned by the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA) to support the evaluation of social distancing measures at a series of upcoming pilot sporting events, which were announced on 17 July. This is a key phase in the UK Government’s planning for the safe return of spectators to live sport, enabling its ‘stage five’ guidance to be stress-tested in advance of a proposed re-opening of sports venues in October

These pilot events will include a county cricket friendly match at The Oval, London, on 26-27 July, the World Snooker Championship at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre, which starts on 31 July, and the Glorious Goodwood horse racing festival on 1 August. These will be the first publicly attended professional sporting events held in the UK since lockdown began and they have been specifically chosen to test how social distancing is applied in a range of facilities and environments. In order to obtain safety certification going forward, all sports venues will have to demonstrate that they are able to operate safely in light of social distancing. The venues in this pilot will be the first to test the proposed changes to the existing licensing processes.

Movement Strategies will be working alongside the SGSA, UK Sport and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to observe these events, for which only a proportion of each venue will be opened up at this pilot stage.

Using a combination of technology and human assessment, the Movement Strategies team will be drawing on its extensive expertise in crowd dynamics to monitor and evaluate spectator behaviour and venue operations in the context of social distancing, and to establish the impact of the measures on the viability of these events. This will include measuring the time taken to perform ticket, security and temperature checks, so that these can be used by other venues when developing their plans. In addition, the team will review how people move in and around seated and standing viewing areas, toilets, catering facilities and merchandise stands in order to identify how effectively they can maintain social distance if they follow the required protocols.

These observations will provide valuable evidence for how the guidance works on the ground, allowing Movement Strategies to make recommendations on any necessary adjustments and potential impacts as the measures are scaled up.

Movement Strategies is currently working on a number of social distancing projects with venues and workplaces across a range of sectors in the UK and North America.

Dr. Aoife Hunt, Associate Director at Movement Strategies, said:

“Planning the movement of people in sports grounds is always complex, and much more so when considering social distancing. We have gone from planning for large, dense crowds to ensuring that all visitors have enough space to meet guidelines and reduce the risk of virus transmission. Movement Strategies has been working with sports venues and the SGSA to understand the challenges that venues now face, and the impact that social distancing will have at every step of the spectator journey. Of course, safety is paramount but it is also important that venue operators protect the fan experience as much as possible. Every sporting venue has its own peculiarities, so it is crucial to get an overview of social distancing at different types of sports and venues in order to inform the guidance for all operators. These pilot events are an important step for professional sport in the UK and Movement Strategies is delighted to be able to apply its expertise to help operators tackle unprecedented crowd planning challenges and enable supporters to enjoy live sport safely once venues are permitted to re-open.”