The Premier League and the EFL are increasingly hopeful that Freedom Day on July 19 will allow full capacities at stadiums when the season kicks off in August.
But the top flight is still preparing to use Covid Passes to keep grounds fully open throughout the autumn and winter, if coronavirus infection rates soar.
This week it emerged ministers are set to shelve plans for the mandatory use of Covid certification, with the growing expectation that coronavirus restrictions will be lifted on July 19 – Freedom Day.
That has raised expectation among all major sports that grounds will be fully open in July and August, with one source close to the discussions on return of fans saying it was now '80/20 in favour' that spectators will be back from July 19.
This brings the exciting prospect of full stadiums in the Premier League for the start of next season on August 13 when Brentford host Arsenal and the EFL programme on August 7.Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
However, there is concern in Government and football that Covid may surge again as winter approaches, which could limit capacities. Sportsmail understands the Government is 'more concerned about November 1 than mid-August' and Covid certification is seen a 'back up option' that can keep the show on the road.
Chief medical officer Chris Whitty told the Cabinet this week that the rise in Covid cases was not putting unsustainable pressure on hospitals in England now, but winter will be difficult.
Fans are already returning to sport in big numbers as part of the Events Research Programme
A source said Professor Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance had suggested 'we should get as much open this summer as possible before winter, which will be much more difficult'.
Professor Whitty, one of the architects of lockdown, was said to be 'cautiously optimistic' that rules could now go – but warned that the winter would be 'challenging' for the NHS.
If infections rise and the NHS is under pressure later in the year, attendance at mass events is likely to come under very close scrutiny.
The Premier League executive director Bill Bush, along with the EFL and other sports, has made clear to government repeatedly that Covid Passes, which include proof of two vaccine doses or evidence of a negative coronavirus test, are the best way to secure full capacity in stadiums.
Bush told MPs in May that football needed certainty will full houses from the first game of the season to the last. Premier League chief executive, Richard Masters has said similar.
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45,000 fans - the vast majority of them English - roared on England against Germany
18,000 supporters attended the second Test against New Zealand each day at Edgbaston
And Sportsmail understands that view has not changed, despite ministers going cool on the idea of Covid certification, as Conservative backbenchers push for the complete removal of restrictions after July 19.
A host of major sports are increasingly optimistic that capacity crowds will return to events and stadiums this summer, if Covid restrictions are lifted on Freedom Day – July 19.
Beneficiaries would include cricket, Rugby League, horse racing, as well as football.
One of the first events that could benefit from increased capacity is England's T20 international against Pakistan at the Emirates Old Trafford on July 20, the day after Freedom Day.
Despite half the summer having passed, there is still a lot of international cricket to be played with a five-Test series against India beginning on August 4.
Opening up would also help domestic cricket with The Hundred set to start on July 21 and the quarter, semis and final of the Vitality T20 blast scheduled from August 24.
Rugby League would also be a big winner if capacity crowds returned. Super League clubs are desperate for five-figure attendances with just under half of the season left.
Round 15 – out of 25 - of the Super League season is due to take place from July 22 to 25 and the final ten match weeks would all be played in front of fans, as