The Netherlands is set to return to full capacity events from June 30, with Dutch football stakeholders welcoming the news as heralding the sport heading back to its “maximum experience”.

The Dutch Government made the announcement during its weekly press conference. The decision has been informed based on the results of research conducted by Fieldlab Events, a Government-backed initiative which has represented the events sector during COVID-19.

In recent months, Fieldlab Events has been investigating how events can be organised safely and responsibly in pandemic times, with a number of test events being held across multiple sectors. The Government has announced that Fieldlab Events has concluded that all types of events can take place safely when a COVID-19 test is used in advance and the inflow and outflow of visitors is controlled. 

In response to these results, the Outbreak Management Team (OMT) has advised the Government that from June 30 events can again be held responsibly with 100% of the regular visitor capacity. However, there are conditions attached to this advice. Every visitor will need to be tested in advance or be in possession of a vaccination or recovery certificate.

The current 1.5 metres social distancing rule, as well as the wearing of face masks, will also be removed. For the first four weeks, until July 28, these rules will be limited to events falling within a 24-hour period, with multi-day events set to be permitted after this point.

For Dutch football, the announcement means that full capacities will return for the 2021-22 domestic season for the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic in March 2020. However, the June 30 date comes too late for Amsterdam’s staging of games during UEFA Euro 2020.

Johan Cruijff ArenA, the home of Eredivisie club Ajax, has been limited to a capacity of 16,000 for its three group games and one Round of 16 encounter. A crowd of 15,837 was recorded for yesterday’s (Sunday’s) opening fixture, the home nation’s 3-2 win over Ukraine, with the Round of 16 match scheduled for June 26.

The 2021-22 Eredivisie season is scheduled to kick-off on August 13, with the new rules set to also permit the return of away fans to stadia. Local authorities, as is tradition, will determine the number of away supporters per match for reasons of public order and safety.

In a joint statement, the Dutch Football Association (KNVB), Eredivisie and second-tier Keuken Kampioen Divisie, said: “This is the news we’ve been waiting for. It has been a very difficult year for football. 

“Since the corona outbreak, we have had frequent and intensive contact with ‘The Hague’. Investments have been made to make the stadiums corona-proof. We have participated in Fieldlab Events pilots with limited audiences. Supporters and sponsors have been flexible and loyal. 

“We are of course very happy with the positive developments of the corona pandemic and the Government’s (re)opening strategy. Now we also have the green light for the next step. We are going back to the maximum experience of football. Full houses, with home and away supporters. We are now looking forward to the new season even more.”

At the end of April, Dutch football authorities expressed their frustration after a delay in Government legislation forced the suspension of fans attending games. At the beginning of the month, it was announced that Dutch football fans would return to Eredivisie stadia at the end of April, 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.

However, an amendment to the Public Health Act that was planned for May 1 was delayed, with the Dutch Government subsequently deciding to suspend pilot events.

The latest news will also impact another major sporting event scheduled in the Netherlands. Having been cancelled last year due to COVID-19, Formula 1 is due to return to a revamped Zandvoort circuit for the first time since 1985 on September 3-5. Organisers have said they are counting on full stands, with more than 100,000 fans expected per day.

Image: KNVB Media