Dutch football stadia are set to welcome fans for the first time since November following the government’s announcement of a reopening plan for the country, but the news of an initial one-third capacity limit has been met with dismay.

The Netherlands has been living with some of the strictest COVID-19 restrictions in Europe, with sports venues having been closed to fans since mid-November and wider hospitality settings shut since December 18.

However, despite these restrictions, Covid-19 cases have continued to rise, with around 60,000 now recorded per day. In the face of this, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte yesterday (Tuesday) admitted that the country was “taking a risk” in easing the restrictions, effective from today.

Ahead of the announcement yesterday evening, the Dutch Football Association (KNVB), the top two leagues – Eredivisie and Eerste Divisie – and clubs called on the government to say “no” to a one-third capacity limit. The organisations stated that a one-third limit would only be acceptable if football could move to at least two-thirds capacity from February 4.

However, the government’s announcement stipulated that the one-third limit would be in place, with stadia also only allowed to open to fans between 5am and 10pm, potentially affecting evening games.

The one-third decision has been driven by the requirement to keep a distance of 1.5 metres between people. No more than 1,250 spectators are allowed at indoor arenas, while large events exceeding this limit may only take place outdoors with assigned seating. At sports facilities, a coronavirus entry pass will be required for people aged 18 and over.

The latest measures are set to be reviewed on March 8 and the government said in a statement: “The number of new cases is high, and many people are self-isolating or self-quarantining at home. The easing of restrictions will probably cause the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals to increase. But despite the risks and uncertainties, the government believes it is responsible to take this big step. Because prolonging the measures that so restrict our daily lives is also harmful to people’s health and to society as a whole.”

Reacting to the announcement, Marianne van Leeuwen, director of professional football at the KNVB, said last night: “Tonight we heard the decision of the cabinet that football stadiums may only be filled for 1/3 with the public and that the next moment for assessment is only three weeks away.

“This decision has been bad for the clubs. Tomorrow morning we will discuss it with the clubs and the Eredivisie and Eerste Divisie.”

While the Eredivisie is suspended this weekend due to the international break, the Eerste Divisie will be in action from Friday. The government’s announcement has been met with disappointed reaction from two of the country’s top clubs.

“There is a mixed feeling at PSV about the relaxations announced by the cabinet,” said PSV Eindhoven general manager, Toon Gerbrands, according to De Telegraaf. “On the one hand, we are happy that we will soon be able to welcome some of our supporters again. On the other hand, this is a solution without perspective.

“Due to the decision of the cabinet, we are forced to disappoint supporters, without being able to properly explain the reason. In addition, it costs us tonnes of income per game. Professional football has shown at an earlier stage of the crisis that it can take a constructive stance. We are part of the solution, not the problem.”

AZ Alkmaar general director, Robert Eenhoorn, added: “We have demonstrated that we can safely and responsibly handle a higher occupancy rate. It is therefore very disappointing that the cabinet does not heed the call from clubs and professional football to start with at least two thirds of the capacity.”

Image: Dutchlad1985/CC BY-SA 4.0/Edited for size