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Austrian, Swiss football bodies draw up fan attendance strategies

Fans will be able to return to sports events in Austria from May 19, while the Swiss Football League (SFL) has postponed the start of its 2021-22 season in an effort to maximise fan attendance opportunities during COVID-19.

As part of Austria’s reopening plan, which also includes the culture, hospitality and tourism industries, the government has announced May 19 as the date from which reopening can proceed. For the sports industry, this means that a maximum of 3,000 people will be allowed in outdoor venues, or 1,500 for indoor events.

The wearing of face masks, along with the provision of a valid negative test result or vaccination certificate, will be required before entry to venues is permitted. For Austrian football, the first six rounds of the 2020-21 Bundesliga season had fans in the stadia, with limits dropping from 10,000 to 3,000, and then finally 1,500 by the end of October.

No fans have been allowed in top-tier stadia since November 3, but spectators will be able to return for the season finale, including the final round of Bundesliga games scheduled for May 21-22. Leo Windtner, president of the Austrian Football Association (ÖFB), said: Due to the long lockdown, many children and young people have lost their connection to sport and clubs. It will take a great deal of effort to win this back. 

“Unfortunately, for many leagues and competitions this reopening comes too late and the season cannot be played to the end everywhere, according to plan. This is a severe setback for amateur football after the last season had to be cancelled due to COVID-19. 

“For these areas, after this gruelling time, it is important to set the course for a real restart with a view to the autumn. That is why the ÖFB, together with the regional associations, is calling for joint action to embark on football’s future after Corona.”

Meanwhile, in Switzerland the Federal Council has announced a three-phase reopening strategy. While the exact guidelines are still unclear with regards the staging of major events such as football games, capacity limits are due to be lifted completely in the final phase.

The SFL believes this means the stadia of its clubs in the Super League and Challenge League will be able to operate at full capacity from August and has therefore postponed the start of the 2021-22 season by one week, to July 23-25.

Swiss football clubs are currently permitted to allow a maximum of 100 fans in their stadia and for Claudius Schäfer, CEO of the SFL, the removal of capacity limits cannot come soon enough. He said: “The opening of the stadiums is essential for survival from an economic point of view. 

“For financial and strategic reasons, the clubs urgently need the greatest possible planning security, because the sale of season tickets for the 2021-22 season will begin in the coming weeks. We consider today’s capacity restriction of 100 spectators to be disproportionately low.

“Due to the postponement of the start of the season, we are assuming that we will not have to play any, or only very few games, with limited audience capacity. In this short phase, with any restrictions it would also be important to determine the capacities with a percentage utilisation of the stadiums, not in absolute numbers, and to ensure proportionality in comparison to other events.”

Image: Ailura/CC BY-SA 3.0 AT/Edited for size