UEFA Super Cup: Fans arrive in Budapest for COVID-19 ‘pilot’ game

Despite measures intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, there has been a growing number of voices calling for fans to stay away.

Bayern Munich fans arrive in Budapest ahead of the match against Spanish side Sevilla [Bernadett Szabo/Reuters]

Football fans have arrived in the Hungarian capital Budapest for European football’s first major match open to spectators since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The final comes as much of Europe tightens its social restrictions for a second wave of the novel coronavirus.

Hungary and European football’s governing body, UEFA, will review the health effects of Thursday night’s Super Cup, a traditional season opener played by Champions League winners (Bayern Munich of Germany) and Europa League champions (Sevilla of Spain).

UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin called it a “pilot project” and said the organisation will decide what to do about international football games after the match.

“In principle, it will be us and the [Hungarian] government of course [to evaluate the health effect of the game] and in principle we trust the governments around Europe,” Ceferin told a news conference after a meeting of football leaders in Budapest.

Last month, UEFA announced its decision to allow a reduced number of fans into the Puskas Arena, limiting attendance to around a quarter of the stadium’s 67,000 capacity to ensure the maintenance of social distance regulations.

UEFA on Thursday said 15,500 tickets had been sold for the match.

Fans will be expected to maintain a 1.5-metre (five-foot) physical distance where possible and thermal cameras installed at entrances will scan body temperature. Mask wearing is compulsory inside the stadium but only “strongly advised” for fans in their seats.

Despite the measures intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, there has been a growing number of voices calling for fans to stay away.

The game was rejected as cynical by Hungarian opposition groups but the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, an avid football fan, has persisted.

As the city began to close down large sections of the area around the new state-of-the-art Puskas Arena, fans appeared in the central area that normally bustles with tourists but is now much more deserted as the pandemic keeps visitors at home.

Jan Tanne, a Bayern supporter who flew into Budapest for 24 hours to attend the first game he was allowed to see since March, told the Reuters news agency he was not afraid as long as people followed the rules.

“The security concept of the game is good so I guess if you honour the rules and stay 1.5 metres away from other people and avoid big crowds then I guess there is no problem to watch the game,” he said.

‘Risk area’

Hungary is currently experiencing a surge in confirmed coronavirus cases that is significantly higher than the COVID-19 numbers recorded in the country earlier this year.

Budapest was designated a “risk area” by the German government last week because of an increased number of COVID-19 cases.

On Monday, Markus Soder, leader of the state of Bavaria, where Munich is situated, warned of the dangers of the coronavirus spreading at the game and told returning fans they would either have to be tested or face quarantine.

A Champions League game in February between Italian side Atalanta and Spanish team Valencia was blamed as a factor that accelerated the spread of the coronavirus in Italy.

Some Hungarian football fans looked at Budapest’s hosting of the Super Cup as a golden opportunity to see teams they would normally have to travel far and pay hefty sums to witness in action.

For Zsolt Ladanyi, chairman of the Bayern Munich Hungary fan club, going to the game was a no-brainer, and the 33-year-old was also taking his father, 65, with him.

“It is not actually more dangerous than going to the supermarket, where people can stand a lot closer to you at the checkout line,” he told Reuters. “We are really lucky that the game was moved to Budapest from the original venue in Portugal.

“We will respect all the rules. I can’t wait to see the match.”

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters