Dutch football authorities have expressed their frustration after a delay in government legislation has forced the suspension of fans attending games, while the project to deliver a new stadium for Eredivisie club Feyenoord has taken a significant step forward.

At the beginning of April, it was announced that Dutch football fans would return to Eredivisie stadia at the end of the month, as part of the Netherlands’ latest test events for the reopening of the sports and entertainment sector during COVID-19.

Professional football was included on the government’s list of events and locations that would conduct pilot events utilising rapid COVID-19 tests. As a result, home fans were allowed to attend in limited numbers during round 30 of the Eredivisie season on April 23-25, as well as round 36 of the second-tier Eerste Divisie today (Friday).

While today’s Eerste Divisie games will proceed as planned, there was hope that fans would continue to be allowed in stadia following these matches. However, an amendment to the Public Health Act that was planned for May 1 has been delayed, with the Dutch government subsequently deciding to suspend pilot events.

The Dutch Football Association (KNVB) last month used a 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifier to trial fan attendance. The Netherlands’ game against Latvia was watched by 5,000 fans at Johan Cruijff ArenA in Amsterdam. The match represented the largest test event to date held under the Fieldlab Events banner.

In January, Eerste Divisie clubs NEC Nijmegen and Almere City were chosen to host test events that saw fans return to Dutch football games for the first time since the end of September. The two second-tier games were part of eight events run under the banner of ‘Back to Live!’ The venture was organised by Fieldlab Events, a government-backed initiative which represents the events sector during COVID-19.

Fieldlab Events ran the two football test events in association with the KNVB, with 1,500 fans present at NEC’s Stadion de Goffert on February 21 for a league match against De Graafschap. Almere City’s test match, also with 1,500 fans present, was a league game against Cambuur on February 28 at Yanmar Stadion.

Earlier this week, Fieldlab Events shared the first findings from its trial events, stating that it is possible, under strict conditions, to allow outdoor events to take place safely with 50-75% of the normal visitor capacity.

Following the suspension of test events, the KNVB, Eredivisie and Eerste Divisie said in a joint statement: “Since the start of the current season, some 130 matches have already been played with a limited audience in professional football. As far as is known, this resulted in little or no infections. 

“This also applied to the three Fieldlab experiments with audiences in the stadiums. Research has shown that almost no contamination takes place in the open air and thanks to the placement in the stadiums, everyone can easily keep sufficient distance during the entire match. 

“Moreover, with the pilot, only persons with a negative COVID-19 test are allowed to enter the stadiums. These access tests have the added benefit to society that those who are found to be infected are informed at an early stage and can take measures.

“Hopefully, the government will soon reverse this decision or the amendment to the law will be implemented urgently. Until then, we unfortunately have to play with empty seats again in the Eredivisie and the same applies after April 30 also for the Eerste Divisie. In any case, we will remain in talks with the cabinet to jointly look for a better solution.”

There are still four rounds of games to play in the top two divisions, with play-off matches then scheduled.

Feyenoord

In other news, the intended new stadium for Feyenoord has moved one step closer after the club approved the business plan for the project. The Rotterdam giant has signed off on the dossier after stating that it proves the new stadium will generate nearly €8m extra per year in revenue than De Kuip, its current home.

The 51,000-capacity De Kuip (pictured) is currently said to provide a maximum of €17.5m (£15.2m/$21.1m) per year in revenue to Feyenoord, but it is believed this will rise to around €25.4m per year in 2025-26, the first season in the new facility.

Feyenoord said: “We will continue to work with confidence in the coming months to also be able to turn the two remaining lights to green. This concerns the last 15% of the financing and an agreement on the construction costs. 

“It is expected that the so-called financial closure can take place in the fourth quarter of 2021, so that construction work can start in 2022. The new stadium will then open in 2025.” 

In September, Feyenoord gave its qualified backing to the long-running effort to deliver a new 63,000-seat stadium in Rotterdam, but warned that substantial work remains before the project can be realised.

The new stadium is just one part of an ambitious urban redevelopment plan for southern Rotterdam, which incorporates the building of at least 3,700 new houses. The Feyenoord City project as a whole has been priced at over €1.5bn, with the stadium having a current reported price tag of €441m.

The new stadium would be the biggest, and most expensive, in the Netherlands. However, there has been debate whether Feyenoord needs a 63,000-seat home, with the club wanting assurances over the financial benefits of it.

In June, architecture firms OMA and LOLA revealed refined plans for the proposed new stadium, with the new designs having been submitted earlier in the month. OMA and LOLA said that the original design of the stadium had been optimised to ensure it is delivered both on time and in a cost-effective manner. 

Image: Валерий Дед/CC BY 3.0/Edited for size