Dutch football is set to return to full stadium capacity for the first time since March 2020 later this month after the Government gave the move the green light.

The announcement was made by Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Deputy Prime Minister Huge de Jonge in the latest round of COVID-19 updates for the Netherlands. It was initially announced back in June that the Netherlands was 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 decision had 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.

Dutch football stadia are currently operating at 67% capacity, but from September 25 these limits will be removed for the start of the seventh round of the top-tier Eredivisie’s 2021-22 season. This will mean that Willem II’s meeting with PSV Eindhoven at Koning Willem II Stadion (pictured) on September 25 is poised to become the first full capacity Dutch football game since March 8, 2020.

Fans will still need to present proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to enter a stadium, but the news has been welcomed by the Dutch Football Association (KNVB), Eredivisie and second-tier Eerste Divisie.

The three bodies said in a joint statement: “We come from far. All clubs and the entire sector have had to fight hard all this time. There has been a loss. A lot of money has been invested in making the clubs corona-proof. The competitions have ended. The games were played in front of completely empty stands and then for a ‘restricted audience’, with spectators surrounded by empty seats. Everyone has also tested massively for corona. We have continuously adapted to the new reality.

“The supporters and sponsors have remained loyal all along, driven by love for their clubs and the hope for better times. We did not always agree with the government, just as it was not always happy with football. But we have arrived at a pleasant cooperation that has led to the moment at which we have arrived.

“After two-thirds of the stadium seats were allowed to be used during the first rounds of this season, we will be back at 100% of the stadium from Saturday 25 September. Finally ‘a full house’ again, with the players on the field being encouraged as much as possible by as many supporters as possible.

“Is that safe? Yes, the Fieldlab studies have already shown that full stadiums are safe and responsible. Every visitor is vaccinated, tested negative or has antibodies. People sit in the open air and cannot roam over all the stands, so that the number of contacts remains limited. Practice also proves that, during the approximately 2,000 matches that have been played in the past 18 months, no ‘corona fires’ have occurred in the stadiums.

“Professional football has positioned itself as part of the solution, rather than the problem. We have collected many scientific insights that are also valuable for society. We have also entered into new collaborations to jointly see what is possible, despite the virus. Hopefully, the pandemic is now mainly behind us and all remaining sectors can be fully opened as soon as possible.”

Image: Willem II