Italian football authorities have welcomed a change in rules from the Government that will allow the country’s stadia to effectively operate at 50% capacity when the new season commences.

The Italian Government last month announced its guidance for fans to return to sporting venues, with the use of a COVID-19 ‘Green Pass’ required to enter stadia and arenas. The Government set out capacity limits for sporting venues, with fans only able to attend if their region sits in the lesser two of the four colour zones.

In white regions, permitted capacities cannot exceed 50% for outdoor venues and 25% for indoor arenas. In yellow regions, this limit falls to 25% capacity, capped at 2,500 for outdoor venues and 1,000 for indoor.

However, with these capacity limits also came a one metre social distancing requirement. This led to complaints that clubs would effectively only be able to operate at a maximum of 25-30% capacity, providing a further hit to matchday income streams.

The Council of Ministers yesterday (Thursday) approved a change to these rules proposed by the Italian Football Federation (FIGC), and supported by Lega Serie A, swapping out the one metre rule for a ‘checkerboard’ system which aims to ensure one seat is left unoccupied between groups of fans. Capacity for indoor sports such as basketball and volleyball has also been raised from 25% to 35%.

President of Lega Serie A, Paolo Dal Pino, said: “This provision is a first step towards the goal that we have set ourselves to get back our full stadiums as soon as possible, filling by checkerboard will allow us to start the season at effectively 50%.

“We thank the Government for this decision, now we must urgently continue with the measures suggested by us and by the FIGC to help our sector cope with the losses caused by COVID-19.”

FIGC president Gabriele Gravina added: “The decision adopted by the Council of Ministers on the new ways to open stadiums to the public represents an important and concrete sign of confidence in the world of football.

“I thank the Government, in particular President (Mario) Draghi, Minister (of Health Roberto) Speranza and Undersecretary (for Sport Valentina) Vezzali, who accepted the requests of the Federation, acknowledging the work carried out with responsibility in these days, while contemplating the needs of the clubs with the protection of health.”

The 2021-22 Serie A campaign is due to start on August 22, with Italian domestic football being mainly held behind closed doors since the outbreak of COVID-19 in March 2020.

The Italian Government officially closed football stadia to fans on March 4, 2020. A partial reopening was set for the month of October, when a maximum of 1,000 fans were permitted entry to grounds. However, this only lasted through to October 25 when stadia were shut again.

Italian football began to see another reopening of stadia at the end of the 2020-21 season. Inter Milan was granted permission to have spectators in the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza for its crowning as the new Serie A champion on May 23.

For the final home game of the season against Udinese, 1,000 spectators were permitted entry, but these people were considered guests of Inter, such as club employees, sponsors and families of the players.

Authorities also granted permission for the 2021 Coppa Italia final to have fans in attendance. The game on May 19, which saw Juventus defeat Atalanta 2-1, was held at Mapei Stadium in Reggio Emilia, home to Serie A club Sassuolo.

Mapei Stadium has a capacity of 21,000 and the government approved attendance for the Coppa Italia final at 20%, roughly equating to 4,300 fans.

In April, Rome confirmed it would be able to host the opening ceremony and first match of UEFA Euro 2020 after Italian authorities agreed to a plan that would allow at least 18,000 fans to attend games at the Stadio Olimpico.

Image: Gaetano Capaldo/CC BY 4.0/Edited for size