The FA Cup Final Played a Big Role in Pandemic Research

A win for Leicester City and for science

Fans of Leicester City before The Emirates FA Cup Final match.

By Tobias Carroll

On Saturday, Leicester City defeated Chelsea in the FA Cup final, held at London’s Wembley Stadium. Their win was, to put it mildly, historic. “Leicester had been dreaming for 137 years, since the club’s inception, of winning the oldest domestic cup competition in the world,” wrote Rob Tanner at The Athletic. “They have finally done it.”

That wasn’t the only reason that this year’s FA Cup was historic, however. 21,000 fans (a little less than a quarter of capacity) attended the game — and for the British government and sporting bodies around the world, their experience was instructive on how large sporting events might look as vaccinations become widespread.

At The Washington Post, Karla Adam explained why this event was such a watershed. Adam described the game as “the last and largest of a series of trials in Britain designed to inform how to resume large-scale gatherings as coronavirus restrictions are lifted.”

For this particular game, attendees had to produce documentation that they had taken a lateral flow test (and tested negative) within the last 48 hours at a pharmacy or NHS testing center. Adam also notes that ticketholders were encouraged to take a more sensitive PCR test at home as well. In this case, PCR tests might be more accurate — that encouragement included asking attendees to test at home before and after the game.

Landmark sporting events don’t usually double as research sites; then again, these are not normal times. And hopefully the findings from this game will bring large-scale events closer to normalcy in the future.