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MAJOR sports fear that turnstiles will remain mostly closed until November as the Government battles to avoid a second pandemic wave.

Representatives from football, both rugby codes, tennis and horse racing met Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden to urge the most rapid possible opening of gates to supporters.

3The 2020-21 Premier Leaguenseason has begun behind closed doorsCredit: Getty Images - Getty

But while the EFL announced pilot trials of up to 1,000 will be held at nine grounds across the country this weekend, the initially planned October 1 date for more substantial reopening is set to be put back by a month.

The sports governing bodies now believe that the start of November represents the earliest possible date for grounds and venues to move towards 30 per cent capacities.

And the possibility of local lockdowns being brought in to stop the spread of Covid-19 means that some venues may still fan-free for even longer.

The disappointing news came as EFL boss Rick Parry hailed this weekend’s planned trials as an “encouraging” step.

EFL chiefs had originally said that 10 venues would be allowing fans in for the first time since March.

But Luton, one of three Championship sides due to host supporters, were forced to pull out of the scheme.

That leaves Preston’s visit to Derby and Middlesbrough’s home game with Bournemouth as the games in the EFL’s top flight with fans inside.

The League One games featuring Charlton against Doncaster, Blackpool versus Swindon, Northampton’s trip to Shrewsbury and Hull’s match with Crewe are on the approved list.

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And in League Two, three games - at Forest Green, Carlisle and Morecambe - will have fans inside.

Carlisle’s Brunton Park, ironically, saw the last League Two game with supporters, a crowd of 2,822 for their win over Newport on March 10, 48 hours before English football went into lockdown.

Parry said: “It’s encouraging that we are in a position to move forward with the next phase of the pilot programme and give a small number of our clubs the opportunity to welcome back up to a 1,000 fans this week.

“The health and well-being of supporters and their wider communities remains the priority, but as we showed at Cambridge, social distancing can be applied safely.

“By extending across more EFL clubs we hope to further demonstrate that the measures developed can allow fans to return in greater numbers from as early as next month.

“The requirement to welcome spectators back through turnstiles has not diminished in any way, the financial challenges facing EFL Clubs have been explained on numerous occasions, they are substantial and a problem that requires immediate solutions."

3Fans were present as Cambridge United beat Fulham U-21s in the EFL TrophyCredit: PA:Press Association Jose Mourinho blames a disrupted pre-season for opening Spurs Premier League defeat

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France Fears That Turkey Is Sending Mercenaries to Caucasus

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron has expressed concern about Turkey allegedly sending Syrian mercenaries to support Azerbaijan in its re-ignited conflict with Armenia over the mountain region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Macron's office said in a statement Thursday that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the issue in a phone call Wednesday night, and both “share concern about the sending of Syrian mercenaries by Turkey to Nagorno-Karabakh." Macron's office did not provide further information about the mercenaries.

Turkey has publicly supported Azerbaijan in the conflict and said it would provide assistance if requested, but denied sending foreign mercenaries or arms to the region.

The renewed fighting in the Caucasus Mountains, at the crossroads between Russia, Turkey and Iran, has killed dozens of people since Sunday and raised concerns of a broader conflict. Heavy fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces continued for a fourth straight day on Wednesday in a flare-up of a decades-old conflict.

The Russian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday expressed concerns over reports about “militants from illegal armed groups, in particular from Syria, Libya” being sent to the conflict zone in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The ministry didn’t clarify which country may have sent the fighters or which country the fighters may have arrived in, but in a statement urged “leadership of the states concerned to take effective measures to prevent the use of foreign terrorists and mercenaries in the conflict.”

Macron said he and Putin called for restraint and agreed upon the need for a joint effort toward a cease-fire, as part of international mediation efforts for Nagorno-Karabakh led by Russia, France and the U.S. since a 1994 truce ended a war there.

The president of Azerbaijan said Armenia’s withdrawal from Nagorno-Karabakh was the sole condition to end fighting over the separatist territory. Armenian officials alleged Turkey’s involvement in the renewed conflict, which Turkey has denied.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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