Surrey chalks out plan to reopen Oval with social distancing and thermal scans  

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Surrey chalks out plan to reopen Oval with social distancing and thermal scans  

Kia Oval. © The Telegraph

Cricket will no longer be the same post COVID-19 pandemic. Surrey Cricket Club, England’s richest club, has outlined a picture – thermal-imaging cameras, online pre-booked seats and sitting in your own ‘quadrant’ of the ground with a ‘hard border’ – for the days to come to reopen the Kia Oval with capacity reduced from 25000 to 6000 to meet social distancing guidelines, The Telegraph reported.

The report, titled 'Getting Members Back to the Kia Oval', has been penned by club’s COVID-19 officer and security director, Scott Carey, and will form the base for Surrey’s future approach to bringing back crowds again when the government restrictions are released. The club believes that it's their duty to provide the game back for their membership.

With 13,500 members, only half will be able to attend Surrey matches. It is expected the demand will be high among the cricket starved fans, the club will introduce an online ticket booking system. Members will have to pre-book their slots online and every alternate row will be empty. Supporters will also not be allowed to walk around the ground which was normal earlier.

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The club has decided to split the grounds into ‘quadrants’ with ‘hard borders’ to prevent any ‘cross-contamination’. The temperature will be checked using thermal-imaging cameras, similar to the ones used in airports. Anyone failing the protocol will be denied entry and will be subjected to more thorough security bag checks.

Bringing in alcohol will be barred but one can buy from food and drink stations at the ground. Stewards and vendors will have to don Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits while food will be prepackaged and served with wrapped cutlery and a napkin. Water fountains will be temporarily disabled and the ground will not accept cash. Hand sanitising stations will be installed in each quadrant and extra food and drink outlets will minimise queuing.

The report also states that around 1877 members live within walking distance of the ground and will be encouraged to walk or cycle. With little chance of crowds being allowed to cricket this year, the report could form the guidelines next summer. The report has been compiled so Surrey will be ready if the Government suddenly scales back its lockdown rules and a limited number of supporters are allowed.

It also states, “Should medical advice change and the Government allow it, the Kia Oval needs to be able to welcome members at short notice. This needs to be done using a rigorous method that will allow members to feel comfortable and safe, whilst maintaining social distancing at all times. It is important to minimise the impact on transport hubs and residents.”

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Pocketing around 1 million pounds every time the ground is full for Surrey Vitality Blast T20 matches, the club feels that opening the Oval even at 25 per cent is viable. While the international matches are expected to start the week after the suspension of cricket is lifted on July 1, the county game will have to wait much longer.

The pandemic has left the County Championship to scrape off from this year’s calendar for the first time, and it is left to the counties to decide if it is financially viable to play a Blast tournament behind closed doors. That would require counties to take players and staff off furlough without generating any match-day income.

Surrey are one of only two clubs – the other being Lancashire – who have not furloughed players and are working with several counties on proposals to play some cricket this season. The Professional Game Group, a committee of influential county chief executives, will this week decide on proposals along with the England and Wales Cricket Board about the make-up of a Blast tournament.

Surrey have the financial clout to install thermal-imaging cameras but the smaller counties who lose money will be reluctant to take on such extra costs when the game is facing huge financial losses because of the Coronavirus shutdown.