Dutch football hails return to full stadium capacity

Dutch football bodies have welcomed the government’s announcement that stadia will be able to open at full capacity from Friday.

The government yesterday (Tuesday) outlined a three-step plan to reopen the Netherlands from what has been some of the strictest COVID-19 restrictions in Europe. The second step is what will concern stadia and arenas.

From Friday, all locations in the Netherlands will be allowed to stay open until 1am. Until February 25, the coronavirus entry pass (3G) must be shown at locations where this is currently mandatory, such as professional sporting events.

Once inside any of these locations, the rules on assigned seating, wearing a face mask and keeping 1.5 metres apart will no longer apply and capacity will no longer be limited. At locations accommodating more than 500 people, however, assigned seating and face masks will still be mandatory.

The final step is intended to take effect from February 25. From that point, opening times will return to normal and the government will lift a number of requirements including wearing face masks and assigned seating. However, at indoor locations accommodating more than 500 people where there is no assigned seating, everyone must show a negative test result.

The latest news comes after it was announced on January 25 that Dutch football stadia would welcome fans for the first time since November. However, an initial one-third capacity limit was met with dismay.

At the start of this season, football stadia were allowed to be filled to two-thirds capacity. Professional football clubs were then given permission to use the entire capacity of their stadia from September 20. However, football returned behind closed doors from November 13 to January 25 due to growing COVID-19 concerns.

Yesterday’s announcement comes with football clubs having been campaigning in recent weeks to return to full stadia capacity. Earlier this month, players took to the field wearing shirts emblazoned with the message ‘stadions vol’.

Fortuna Sittard’s clash with Sparta Rotterdam on Friday at Fortuna Sittard Stadion is now set to be the first Eredivisie game at full capacity since mid-November. Reacting to the news, the Dutch Football Association (KNVB), Eredivisie and Eerste Divisie said in a joint statement: “This is great news for all players, clubs, supporters and football fans.

“The players and the clubs have had to miss their audience for a long time. Normally they receive an average of more than 200,000 people per week. The supporters had to do without their weekly or bi-weekly visit to their club for months. That was a big loss for them, knowing that football fans spend an average of 11 hours a week on activities related to Dutch professional football.

“In the past two years, the stadiums had to remain empty or largely empty more often than they were allowed to open ‘normally’. In the current 2021-22 season, only 124 of the nearly 500 matches have been played without a cap on the number of spectators.”

The statement added: “No one can say for sure how the coronavirus will develop in the future. In any case, the approach should be that we should approach it differently than last winter in the event of increasing contamination figures.

“Not having all doors closed at once, but looking at how everything can remain open responsibly with a long-term vision. We will continue to discuss this with the cabinet in the coming period. Because after two years of corona in the Netherlands, both the studies and the registered figures show in detail that this can be done safely in the football stadiums.”

Image: Daniel/CC BY 2.0/Edited for size