BERN (Reuters) - From getting to the toilets to creating an atmosphere, the prospect of social distancing is setting new challenges for stadium designers and operators who usually aim to keep people together rather than apart.
Although football is starting to reawaken after the COVID-19 pandemic, the days of large stadiums crowds seem a long way off. Even when they return, they may have to respect social distancing guidelines, something that stadium architects such as Populous are already considering.
"Assuming we don't have a vaccine, there will have to be some form of social distancing in stadiums which they aren't designed for," senior principal Christopher Lee told Reuters.
"It's the antitheses of how we design a stadium," he added. "Usually, we want people close and intimate... We try to design external spaces, concourses, exits, bars, concessions and the like to be spacious but we go to live events to feel part of a crowd and have that connection."
"There is a lot of work to even get 10,000 or 15,000 into a 60,000 stadium," he said. "They have to be spaced... (and) you are talking about much longer times to get into the stadium."
Lee, the project director for Tottenham Hotspur's new stadium which opened last year, listed the some of the challenges.
"When you get onto a concourse, how do maintain the two metre distances from your fellow spectators," he said. "How do you have a drink or something how to eat and, the trickiest bit, how do you get to the toilets?"
Lee said that Populous were working on solutions with their clients and expected technology to provide many of the solutions.Among the ideas being considered were robots and wearable devices.
Lee said there were robots who could do "anything from serving coffee to pulling a beer and guiding people to their places". Wearable devices, meanwhile, could "beep annoyingly" whenever the wearer moved within two metres of another spectator.
Meanwhile, Populous was also looking at ways of getting the hundreds of thousands of remote fans more connected with the match, and even "inside" the stadium using technology similar to video conferencing.
In the same way that video conferencing had changed business practices, it could transform sports watching habits.
One "relatively cheap and simple option" is be a Zoom-style conference call that would transmit pictures of fans watching remotely onto screens around the stadium -- already being tried by Danish Superliga side Aarhus.
A more sophisticated possibility would be to use Augmented Reality (AR) technology to bring images of fans into the stadium, or to give remote viewers the sensation that they were in the stadium.
"For example, people gather together in some little bar in a far corner of the world - so can you then represent that in the stadium itself?" he pondered. Then there is holography.
When Japan unsuccessfully bid to host the 2022 World Cup, one of its plans was to use holography to transmit 3-D images of matches onto the pitches of stadiums across the world.
The idea was the fans could gather in a stadium thousands of kilometres away and watch the game being played out on the pitch in front of them as if they were at the actual venue.
Could the same be done with spectators, using holograms of real fans in remote locations to fill empty seats?
"It's some way off. We don't think you can do it on that scale at the moment. There are some awesome holograms, but on the scale of 60,000 plus, it's probably not yet viable so we are back to more simple technology," said Lee.
"Above all else, we are focused on the safety and security of our fans."
(Writing by Brian Homewood)
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