Gary Neville has expressed his opposition to football supporters requiring a Covid passport in order to attend live games, as Premier League and EFL clubs continue to hold talks over vaccination certification ahead of the new season.
Sportsmail understands that top flight officials were already urgently working on a scheme for Covid certification from match round one, which begins on August 13, after Government made clear that is the expectation.
Now further clarification is being sought after Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s declaration on Monday night that everyone who wants to go to a nightclub from the end of September will have to show proof of having received two doses of a Covid vaccine.
In addition, the PM said ‘other venues where large crowds gather’ could also be made to adopt the checks, which is likely to include sport.
This is a more stringent requirement than the current Covid Passport, which has been tested at various sports events, including Euro 2020, in recent weeks.
The latest move from Government has stirred debate among hospitality chiefs and Sky Sports pundit Neville has weighed in on the subject, expressing his opposition to the requirement of Covid passports for football supporters.
Gary Neville has expressed his opposition to the use of Covid passports at football matches
Premier League clubs are in talks over passport implementation at football games this season
‘You shouldn’t need a passport to watch a football match!’ he tweeted on Thursday morning. ‘Test events have been carried out with great success.’
Test events refer to the pilot events in which large crowds have been permitted to attend sporting and cultural events to assess the risk of transmission of coronavirus.
Sporting events such as Euro 2020 and Wimbledon have been used as test events, with 60,000 spectators at Wembley Stadium for the European Championship semi finals and final.
Boris Johnson’s announcement that nightclub revellers will require two Covid jabs from September has resulted in clubs seeking further clarification on large sporting events
The Government has been testing the safe return of fans as part of the Events Research Programme, which has been under way since late March.
The latest phase has investigated the use of Covid Passports, which have been sued to test the return of capacity crowds and very large attendances.
Among the high-profile events featured have been a string of Euro 2020 matches, including the semi-finals and final at Wembley, when more than 60,000 people could attend.
Wimbledon’s Centre Court was allowed a maximum capacity of 15,000 in the second week of the Championships.
A full house of 30,000 fans packed in to Lord’s for the second One Day International between England and Pakistan.
But the biggest event of all was the British Grand Prix, when 140,000 people attended Silverstone on Sunday to watch Lewis Hamilton claim a controversial win.
Previous phases in the Government’s testing programme analysed the impact of social distancing and masks, gradually increasing capacities including at various football matches, culminating in the FA Cup final between Leicester City and Manchester City, which was attended by 20,000 people.
According to Reuters, the results of the test events found no substantial Covid outbreaks, although only 15 per cent of attendants returned the two tests they were asked to do before and after the event, meaning that these findings should be interpreted with ‘extreme caution’.
When quizzed by one of his followers as to whether a negative Covid test the day before matchday would suffice, Neville said: ‘The Euros adopted this policy’.
The 46-year-old conducted a poll among his 4.6million followers, asking whether they were in support of vaccine passports at sporting events.
Close to 13,000 people responded, with the vote torn at 48 per cent in favour, and 52 per cent against the use of vaccination certification.
‘Only 6 mins and 13000 votes but a demonstration of how divided we are on this issue. It must be debated maturely with an understanding from both sides when it’s so even!’ Neville reflected upon the survey.
As well as Covid passports, Sportsmail understands that fans can expect timed entry slots and to be asked to wear face coverings within concourses and toilets inside the stadium when they return in a few weeks time, even though masks are no longer compulsory in national life.
Until now, the passport, which uses the NHS app, has included evidence of two jabs, a negative test or natural immunity from a previous infection.
Regardless of the latest development, sources within the game admit that it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the football authorities to ignore the guidance already published by Government, which includes use of Covid Passports (including negative tests), crowd control measures like timed entry and face masks.
Football is now scrambling to agree and communicate a plan that will work and can be enforced. In the Premier League, Government expects a plans to be in place at at least some clubs, if not all from match round one.
The situation is potentially more complicated in the EFL, where clubs are concerned about the resource required and a lack of clarity over what constitutes a ‘very large’ event.
And Sky Sports pundit Neville voiced his disapproval of Covid passports because test events were a ‘great success’ and a poll ran on his account showed fans are divided over the issue
Although Neville’s poll forecast division among supporters over Covid passports, Sportsmail has found that Premier League football fans and supporters’ groups have given their backing to the use of Covid passes to secure full capacity at stadiums next season.
Earlier this summer fans’ representatives said they wanted the government to hurry up and approve the scheme so clubs and supporters could prepare for matches that begin on August 13.
Sportsmail asked fan groups if they would support Covid passes that included proof of vaccination, a negative test or natural immunity.
Fan groups told Sportsmail that they were in favour of Covid passports being used this season
‘We are supportive because the main aim is to get fans back in and enjoying the beautiful game,’ said Matt Davis, a committee member at the Foxes Trust, which represents the supporters of Leicester City.
‘On our board the unanimous view was, ‘yes’ [to Covid passes],’ added Davis.
Fan groups at Arsenal, Manchester United, Southampton and Manchester City also supported Covid Passports when approached by Sportsmail.