The Premier League was last night restarted behind closed doors following a thee-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A maximum of 300 people will be allowed inside the 52,000-capacity stadium, and the Championship will also restart behind closed doors.
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However, there are already talks involving sports minister Nigel Huddleston and deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van Tam about a phased reopening of stadiums.
The Premier League is likely to start the 2020/21 season in September, and Dowden is hopeful there will be some fans allowed inside stadiums by then.
“I would really hope that by the return of the new season we might be in a position whereby some fans could start to return to stadiums,” he said at the Downing Street daily briefing. “And I know that would be another important part of restoring the financial position of clubs.”
Given the lower risk of transmitting coronavirus outside, stadiums could be reopened before theatres.
“I think you see different scenarios – in relation to stadiums where people are outside and they are much bigger and there is more scope for social distancing, it may be that you could do that sooner,” said Dowden.
“I know particularly with the performing arts and theatres, when you are doing that in a confined space, there are greater risks there.”
Premier League chief executive Richard Masters said football would not be “back with a capital B” until fans are able to return and says clubs have expressed a willingness to be “guinea pigs” in any experimentation around phased reopenings.
For the time being though, supporters are being urged to stay away, with Masters warning that gatherings outside stadiums may risk the league’s ability to complete the vast majority of its fixture schedule on a home-and-away basis.
“We think the messaging is going to be clear, we don’t think there will be any incidents of gatherings outside of football matches,” said Masters.