Spectators are set to return to major sporting events in Wales in the coming weeks after the Welsh Government confirmed plans to ease Covid-19 restrictions on Friday.
From Saturday, the number of people who can be present at outdoor events will rise from 50 to 500.
Then, from January 21, Wales will move to alert level zero for all outdoor activities, which means there will be no limits on the number of people who can take part in them – albeit with Covid passes still being needed for larger-scale events.
We take a look at how this will affect sport in the country, with rugby union, football, racing boxing and darts all set to welcome back fans…
Six Nations set to go ahead as planned
Prior to the Welsh Government’s announcement around restrictions being lifted, there were concerns Wales would either have to play their home Six Nations matches behind closed doors.
Multiple reports had also suggested plans were being drawn up to potential play matches across the border in England, where there is no limit on crowds in place, to allow spectators to attend.
However, Friday’s announcement means Wales’ first home match of this year’s tournament against Scotland on February 12 should be able to go ahead with a capacity crowd at the Principality Stadium.
“Provided the numbers continue to fall, that is what we are announcing today,” Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford said on Friday.
“I have to put that ‘if’ in there as we follow the data and we follow the science. We are confident, from what we are told, that we are past the peak, and we are coming rapidly down the other side.
“We have seen many surprises with coronavirus. We need to see that pattern sustained for another week, and then next Friday, I hope to confirm, finally, that that is what can happen. We are briefing on it today because we think that is the path we are on.”
Wayne Pivac’s team host France and Italy on March 11 and 19 respectively in the Six Nations this year too.
The news will be welcome for the country’s four professional regional teams too, although does not come soon enough for Cardiff to welcome fans back for Friday’s Heineken Champions Cup pool-stage clash at home to Harlequins.
Their first home game following the planned lifting of restrictions on outdoor gatherings will therefore be against Leinster in the United Rugby Championship on January 29.
Scarlets will be the first Welsh region to welcome back fans following the lifting of restrictions when Bristol Bears visit Llanelli in the Champions Cup on January 22.
The Dragons will have fans back for the URC visit of Benetton on January 28 and Ospreys will be able to open up their ground on the same day as Cardiff when they welcome Edinburgh to Swansea.
Football and racing gear up for return of crowds
Swansea City are set to be the first of Wales’ football clubs to welcome fans back into their stadium when they host Preston North End in the Sky Bet Championship on January 22.
Cardiff City fans will still have to watch this Saturday’s home game against Birmingham City via a live stream, with the match being brought forward to 12.30pm to allow that to happen, although the Bluebirds’ ground will be open for the visit of Nottingham Forest on January 30.
In League Two, Newport County will have spectators back at Rodney Parade for the clash with Barrow on January 29 and National League outfit Wrexham see fans return four days earlier when Grimsby Town visit the Racecourse. The JD Cymru League, suspended since the festive period, is also set to resume its programme in full from January 21.
Meanwhile, horse racing fans are set to return in limited numbers from Monday as Chepstow welcomes a 500-strong crowd of annual members alongside owners to its meeting after again being forced to hold the Coral Welsh Grand National behind closed doors last month.
“We’re allowed to have 500 people outside on Monday, so we’re going to admit annual members as well as owners for the meeting,” Chepstow and Ffos Las executive director Phil Bell told the Racing Post.
“We were getting increasingly concerned that the Welsh Government stance was affecting sales for the next few months as people were unsure what was happening so were holding off booking tickets. With this positive news, we can get the message out that people can come racing.”
Chepstow should be able to open fully for its next meeting on February 26, with Ffos Las and Bangor also able to do likewise on February 1 and 11 respectively.
Welsh boxing and darts stars to have home backing
Although restrictions on outdoor events are due to be lifted by January 21, restrictions on indoor activities will remain in place in Wales until January 28.
That does, however, mean Liam Williams’ grudge match against Chris Eubank Jr, live on Sky Sports, will go ahead with what will no doubt be a vociferous crowd backing the Welshman at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena.
Eubank Jr vs Williams gets green light for Cardiff clash
Chris Eubank Jr’s huge grudge fight against Liam Williams has been given the green light to go ahead in Cardiff on Saturday, February 5, live on Sky Sports.
That showdown had originally been set for January 29, but the British Boxing Board of Control suspended all boxing throughout the month to allow doctors and medical experts to prioritise their work with the NHS during the pandemic and will now take place on February 5.
It is good news for Welsh darts fans as well, with this year’s Cazoo Premier League set to get under way at the same venue two days earlier on Thursday, February 3 – again, live on Sky Sports.
The Welsh duo of reigning Premier League champion Johnny Clayton and former PDC World Champion Gerwyn Price are both likely to be among the contenders and will no doubt have plenty of backing from their compatriots.