Netherlands to trial return of fans ahead of Euro 2020

A week after the 1,500 dance music devotees descended on the Dutch village of Biddinghuize, Oranje supporters will become the latest to take part in a nationwide experiment to discover the feasibility of safely hosting large-scale events in the Covid-19 era.

In a government-backed initiative called Back to Live organised by Fieldlab, 5,000 ticket-holders will be allowed enter the Johan Cruijff Arena in Amsterdam for Saturday’s World Cup qualifier against Latvia provided they have tested negative for coronavirus at special sites from 8am that morning and recorded that on a CoronaCheck app with a QR code. They will be divided into different sections, with some having to wear face masks but others allowed to go without to show their support for Frank de Boer’s side, who lost 4-2 in Turkey on Wednesday.

“We are all really looking forward to this,” said De Boer, who took over from Ronald Koeman in September and became the first Netherlands manager not to win any of his first four matches. “We do not want to play in front of empty stands but play for fans. Let’s hope that this is the first step and that we can welcome even more people during the European Championship.”

Amsterdam is due to host three first-round matches and a last-16 game at Euro 2020. Similar studies were carried out at two matches in the Dutch second division last month when about 1,300 spectators were permitted to attend. Fans were divided into six sections, each with differing levels of contact and rules around the prevention of the spread of Covid-19.

One supporter from the game in Nijmegen was found to be infected but there were no positives from the match in Almere.

“This is a good experiment with which we can show that it is possible that we can soon get people in the stadium again,” said Gijs de Jong, secretary general of the Dutch Football Association, last week. “If [supporters] are negative, they can show that with an app at the stadium and they can enter then in combination with their match ticket. This is a way it could also work with the clubs and the European Championship.”

Non-essential businesses have been closed in the Netherlands since December 15th, with a nationwide 9pm curfew in force since late January. But rates of infection have been on the rise again in recent days, with talks over the establishment of a new government coalition postponed on Thursday after the outgoing deputy prime minister, Kajsa Ollongren, tested positive.

The Albanian Football Association’s last hopes of allowing 6,500 spectators to watch their World Cup qualifier against England in Tirana on Sunday have ended after the health ministry rejected its request.

“I would suggest that all persons who have been vaccinated, profiting from the mass vaccination that you as a government have been holding … are allowed at the stadium,” the FA president, Armand Duka, had written in his letter to the prime minister, Edi Rama. It was estimated on Tuesday that about 54,000 people had received a vaccine out of a population of 2.8 million.

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