Man United say they can safely host 23,500 fans at Old Trafford


FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Premier League - Manchester United v Crystal Palace - Old Trafford, Manchester, Britain - September 19, 2020 Executive vice chairman Ed Woodward wearing a protective face mask in the stands during the match Pool via REUTERS/Richard Heathcote

(Reuters) - Manchester United can safely host 23,500 fans at Old Trafford while maintaining social distancing to curb the spread of COVID-19, the Premier League club said on Wednesday.

Spectators have been barred from games since the league resumed in June after a three-month hiatus due to the pandemic, with fans last present at Old Trafford during United's 2-0 derby victory over Manchester City in March.

The U.K. government had hoped to allow limited crowds back into sporting venues from October, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson put those plans on hold last month amid a surge in cases.

"We spent around two months working with the government guidelines to... make sure we can have around 23,500 people in this stadium safely social distancing," United's chief operating officer Collette Roche told Sky Sports.

"It's quite bemusing to understand why people can gather in other settings such as on an aeroplane or a restaurant, or even in a cinema to watch football, when we know we've got the plans and the process is ready to deliver a match day here safely."

Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward urged the government to allow fans back into stadiums on an earnings call last week, while expressing frustration with inconsistencies in the government's approach.

United have reported an annual net loss of 23.2 million pounds, with the club also saying they lost 70 million pounds in revenue in the year to the end of June due to coronavirus restrictions.

(Reporting by Manasi Pathak in Chennai; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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