Football was increasingly looking like an outlier on Friday after its decision to postpone all weekend matches following the Queen’s death proved sharply at odds with most other major sports.
While Test cricket, the PGA championship golf and Premiership rugby opted to return to play on Saturday, the Premier League, English Football League and the four Football Associations in Britain and Northern Ireland cancelled all games as a mark of respect.
The Premier League said its decision had come after a meeting of its clubs in which tributes were paid to the Queen. “To honour her extraordinary life and contribution to the nation, and as a mark of respect, this weekend’s Premier League match round will be postponed, including Monday evening’s game,” it said.
Similar statements were released by the EFL and FA. However supporters’ groups and former players have questioned whether the cancellations – which also means the Women’s Super League will not start as scheduled and grassroots matches will not be played, except in Scotland – was the best way to honour the Queen.
The Football Supporters’ Association said that many fans would feel that “this was an opportunity missed for football to pay its own special tributes”.
“Our view, which we shared with the football authorities, is that most supporters would have liked to go to games this weekend and pay their respect to the Queen alongside their fellow fans,” it added.
The former England defender Gary Neville also suggested the decision had been a mistake, saying: “Sport can demonstrate better than most the respect the Queen deserves.”
Football’s announcement came despite guidance from the government at two meetings on Thursday night and Friday morning, in which sporting bodies were told there was no obligation to postpone fixtures during the official mourning period.
Insiders have suggested that a fear of negative headlines played a part in football’s decision, along with a wish by some to postpone games out of respect for Prince William, who is the president of the Football Association.
Most other sports took the view that it was better to honour the Queen’s life at packed stadiums, bringing people together in tribute.
The RFU said it had decided to allow rugby union to carry on this weekend after consulting a wide range of people. “The overwhelming opinions shared so far are that teams and supporters want to come together to honour Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, to be united in our grief as we express sorrow at her passing,” a statement said.
“Rugby, at its heart, is about community and bringing people together, in good times and in sad. Rugby clubs are a source of strength and support during times of uncertainty, and we hope that by enabling games and other rugby activity to go ahead this weekend, with families and friends congregating, it will help us to unite 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 being held before the start.
However the prospect of an extra day’s play to make up for the loss of Friday’s action ended when South Africa said they had to fly home on Tuesday.
The England and Wales Cricket Board also confirmed that the sport at all levels would continue “to pay tribute to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and honour 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 rugby league’s Super League playoffs will go ahead.
Elsewhere Saturday’s St Leger at Doncaster has been pushed back to Sunday, when a nine-race card will be staged to ensure that Britain’s oldest Classic and other important races lost as a result of the cancellations can take place. The fixture scheduled for Musselburgh racecourse on Sunday will be cancelled as a mark of respect for the fact that the Queen’s body will be lying in rest in Edinburgh.
In boxing the highly anticipated bout between Claressa Shields and Savannah Marshall for the undisputed world middleweight championship has been postponed until 15 October.
Meanwhile, organisers of Sunday’s Great North Run, which has 60,000 entrants, confirmed the historic half marathon would take place as planned.
In a statement explaining its decision organisers said: “The event has traditionally been a celebration of the extraordinary achievements of ordinary people, this year it 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 an estimated £25m in much needed charitable donations, 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 went through two locations owned in part by Historic Royal Palaces. “This weekend was to be a celebration of months of training, fundraising and personal dedication,” it said in a statement. “However it is with broken hearts that we are having to postpone.”