July 20 (Reuters) - Snooker's World Championship at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre from July 31 to Aug. 16 will allow a limited number of spectators after the government paved the way for fans to attend elite sports events on a trial basis.
Professional sport in Britain returned last month after a near three-month shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic but fans were not allowed to attend to adhere to social distancing norms to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
But the government said last week it would allow spectators at carefully selected trial events from late July to early August to 'stress test' new guidelines on a return to some kind of sporting normality.
"Following extensive discussions... in recent weeks, we are delighted that the Betfred World Championship has been picked among the very small number of sports events for this pilot project," World Snooker Tour (WST) chairman Barry Hearn said in a statement.
"We will be the only indoor sporting event with a crowd. This highlights the government's confidence in snooker and our ability to safely welcome back fans at one of the biggest sporting events on the planet."
WST said fans who had previously bought tickets and registered an interest in keeping their place in a limited capacity crowd would retain their seats while tickets available for other sessions would be put on general sale.
Hearn assured fans that every health and safety guideline given by the government would be followed with the "eyes of the planet" focused on the event.
Defending champion Judd Trump, Ronnie O'Sullivan, Mark Selby and Neil Robertson are among the players expected to participate.
"Several players have commented that the tournament would not be the same without fans, and so now they will be thrilled by the fact that we are among the first sports to welcome spectators back," Hearn added.
"The players' duty is now to behave in a responsible manner, use common sense and follow all relevant guidelines."
(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru Editing by Christian Radnedge)