Fans returned to British sport for the first time in 2021 as the eased coronavirus lockdown restrictions allowed spectators to attend the opening day of snooker’s World Championship on Saturday. As one of the government’s pilot events, which are being used to bring sport out of lockdown, the World Championship was able to open its doors to fans at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre. With only 33 per cent capacity allowed for the first round, a limited crowd of 213 watched on as six-time world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan took a 6-3 lead over Mark Joyce in the first round. Martin Gould faced Yan Bingtao on the other table, with all four players warmly applauded by the fans.
“It’s important we are successful because we are sending out a message to all other indoor sports, cinemas, theatres,” World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn told the BBC.
“The data that comes from this is going to be vital to getting to the land of milk and honey of normality.
“In my 45 years of promoting sport, if we are full up for the final after the year we’ve been through at the Crucible, with 500 million watching this around the world, I think I’m going to put this down as one of our greatest moments.”
Fans attending had to show a negative Covid-19 test result and sign a consent form, while logging into the NHS Track and Trace App.
Sanitiser stations were provided around the venue and spectators in socially distanced seats were asked to wear face masks.
The players competing in the World Championship were asked not to pose for selfies or sign autographs to cut down on close contact with fans.
Attendance is expected to increase to 50 percent for the second round.
The quarter-finals and semi-finals will see 75 percent capacity, with the aim to have a 980-seat full house for the final, which starts on May 2.
Britain has entered the second phase of its roadmap out of lockdown thanks in large part to a successful vaccination drive.
The continued success of the vaccine rollout and a drop in infection rates convinced the government to give the green light to the return of fans away from snooker as well.
The FA Cup semi-final between Leicester and Southampton at Wembley on Sunday will serve as a test event, with 4,000 local residents and key workers making up the crowd.
Football in Britain was last played with fans in December before a second wave of the virus.
Next weekend’s League Cup final between Manchester City and Tottenham at Wembley, the FA Cup final at Wembley on May 15 and the final two rounds of the Premier League season are also scheduled to have fans in a limited capacity.