Union Berlin offers free COVID-19 tests in effort to fill stadium

German Bundesliga football club Union Berlin has said it will offer free COVID-19 tests to more than 20,000 fans as it looks to play in front of a capacity crowd when the 2020-21 season gets underway in September.

Union Berlin’s home ground, Stadion An der Alten Försterei, has a capacity of 22,000 and club president Dirk Zingler has said the stadium experience “doesn’t work” with social distancing.

With this in mind, Union Berlin is prepared to offer free COVID-19 tests to all 22,012 ticket holders on match days. Stadium entry will then be granted to anyone who tests negative for the virus.

In a statement, Union Berlin said its stadium experience is characterised by closeness and the “intense participation” from supporters during the match. In the match-day programme for the club’s final home game of the season, Zingler said that the club is “prepared to do everything in their power to welcome people without social distancing in the ground as quickly as possible”.

The club is hoping to operate the stadium at full capacity for the opening Bundesliga match of the season and has agreed to follow the German Football League’s (DFL) hygiene plan. The DFL’s strategy includes testing all people who are unable to maintain social distancing, and the implementation of mask-wearing.

Zingler added: “Our stadium experience doesn’t work with social distancing, and if we aren’t allowed to sing and shout, then it’s not Union. At the same time, the safety of our visitors and staff is at the heart of all our considerations. We want to ensure as best we can that nobody is infected at our sold-out stadium – this applies to Union club members and the away supporters.

“To implement such a plan is an enormous organisational and economic challenge, which we are happy to tackle with all our might. It means that we as a football club will carry the costs of implementing the necessary measures ourselves. Our goal is to give back to the people the football they love and long for and – which we’ve repeatedly emphasised in recent months – to get the people who are in urgent need of it back to work.”

The club is holding talks with potential partners for the implementation of its plan. Union will present the plan to the relevant health authorities as soon as the framework has been defined.

The DFL is itself in talks with the German Federal Ministry of Health to discuss the requirements and conditions that would allow fans to return in the top two divisions. The DFL said that clubs’ own concepts would be the key factor in partially allowing fans back into the stadium, with any proposals requiring approval from local authorities.

Elsewhere in Europe, crowds returned to French football over the weekend as 5,000 fans attended Le Havre’s friendly match against Paris Saint-Germain. Relaxed health protocols meant that Le Havre’s Stade Océane was able to open at around a fifth of its usual capacity.

Social distancing guidelines were in place throughout the match, with the upper tiers of the stadium empty. Fans were also required to wear masks inside the ground.

France’s Ligue 1 did not finish its 2019-20 season following the COVID-19 outbreak, making it an outlier among the top European leagues.

Image: Lear 21/Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)/Edited for size