Football looked increasingly like a state of emergency on Friday after its decision to postpone all weekend matches following the Queen’s death came sharply at odds with most other major sports.
While Test cricket, the PGA Golf Championship and Premiership rugby chose to return on Saturday, the Premier League, the English Football League and the four football associations in Great Britain and Northern Ireland canceled all matches as a mark of respect.
The Premier League said the decision was made after a meeting of its clubs at which tributes were paid to the Queen. “To honor her extraordinary life and contribution to the nation and as a mark of respect, this weekend’s Premier League round-robin matches will be postponed, including Monday night’s match,” it said.
Similar statements were released by the EFL and FA. However, supporter groups and former players question whether the cancellation – which also means the Women’s Super League will not start as scheduled and grassroots matches will not be played except in Scotland – is the best way to honor the Queen.
The Football Supporters’ Association said many fans would feel “this is a missed opportunity for football to pay its special respects”.
“Our view, which we have shared with the football authorities, is that most supporters would like to go to games this weekend and pay their respects to the Queen alongside their fellow fans,” it added.
Former England defender Gary Neville also suggested the decision was a mistake, saying: “Sport can demonstrate better than most the respect the Queen deserves.”
Football’s announcement came despite government guidance at two meetings on Thursday night and Friday morning in which sports organizations were told there was no obligation to postpone matches during the official mourning period.
Insiders suggested fear of negative headlines played a role in football’s decision, along with the desire by some to postpone matches out of respect for Prince William, who is president of the Football Association.
Most other sports take the view that it is better to honor the Queen’s life in full stadiums, bringing people together in tribute.
The RFU said it had decided to allow rugby union to go ahead this weekend after consulting a wide range of people. “The overwhelming views shared so far are that teams and supporters want to come together to honor Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, to be united in our grief as we mourn her death,” it said in a statement.
“Rugby, at its core, is about community and bringing people together, in good times and bad. Rugby clubs are a source of strength and support in times of uncertainty and we hope that by allowing games and other rugby activities to continue this weekend, with families and friends coming together, it will help us pull together at this time of national mourning. “
England’s third Test against South Africa will also resume on Saturday, with players and coaches wearing black armbands and a minute’s silence before kick-off.
However, the prospect of an extra day’s play to make up for missing out on Friday’s action ended when South Africa said they must fly home on Tuesday.
The England and Wales Cricket Board also confirmed that sport at all levels would continue “to pay tribute to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and to honor her remarkable life and service”.
Golf’s BMW International at Wentworth will also resume, although it will be reduced to a 54-hole tournament, and the Rugby Super League play-offs will go ahead.
Elsewhere, Saturday’s St Leger at Doncaster has been postponed until Sunday, when a nine-race card will be staged to ensure Britain’s oldest classic and other important races lost as a result of the cancellation can go ahead. The match scheduled for Musselburgh Racecourse on Sunday will be canceled out of respect for the Queen’s body to lie in state in Edinburgh.
In boxing, the long-awaited fight between Claressa Shields and Savannah Marshall for the undisputed world middleweight title has been postponed until October 15.
Meanwhile, organizers of Sunday’s Great North Run, which has 60,000 runners, have confirmed the historic half marathon will go ahead as planned.
In a statement explaining their decision, organizers said: “The event is traditionally a celebration of the extraordinary achievements of ordinary people, this year will be an opportunity for us to come together and express our condolences while celebrating the life of our extraordinary Queen.
“The thousands of runners taking part are expected to raise around £25 million in much-needed donations for the charity, a fitting tribute to the Queen who lived her life in the service of our country and its people.”
However, another major grassroots event, the Richmond Runfest, was forced to postpone its marathon and other races as it passed through two sites partly owned by the historic royal palaces. “This weekend was supposed to be a celebration of months of training, fundraising and personal dedication,” it said in a statement. “Nevertheless, it is with broken hearts that we must adjourn.”