TV viewers tuning in to Thursday’s UEFA Super Cup can be excused for thinking they’ve stumbled across highlights of a months-old fixture, so accustomed have they become to seeing sparse — or no — crowds in attendance.
In the age of coronavirus, the sight of more than 15,000 fans in the Puskas Arena will be an arresting one as Bayern Munich and Sevilla, last season’s Champions League and Europa League winners, meet in the Hungarian capital of Budapest at the Puskas Arena.
The stadium has a 68,000 capacity, but European governing body UEFA’s original plan was for the match to have a reduced capacity of up to 30% of the venue. On Thursday, it was announced it would be at 25% capacity.
The game comes as Europe faces a second wave of Covid-19 infections, stoking fears it could cause a rise in cases.
According to the World Health Organization, there have been 20,450 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Hungary and 702 deaths, but like much of Europe, the country faces a second wave of cases with more than 6,000 infections recorded last week.
“I really get a stomach ache when it comes to the Super Cup,” Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Soeder said this week.
Soeder warned against the game becoming a “football-Ischgl” — a reference to the Austrian ski resort that contributed towards the virus’ spread across Europe — and his concerns were echoed by Bayern executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
“I think everyone’s stomachs are churning,” Rummenigge told ZDF.
UEFA is treating the event as a pilot to bringing fans back to stadiums. Those in attendance must abide by social distancing of one-and-a-half meters, wear face masks and undergo a body temperature check on entry.
On its website, Bayern emphasized that fans traveling back from Hungary to the state of Bavaria, where the club is based, will have to quarantine for 14 days.
The club is also offering fans returning from Budapest a free coronavirus test in the car park of its home stadium, the Allianz Arena.
Sevilla and Bayern have each been allocated 3,000 tickets with the remainder likely to be taken by locals as Hungary hosts a final of a major European football competition for the first time.
Hungary’s National Ambulance Service has announced that 500 emergency service workers have been invited to Thursday’s game, with those tickets selling out in 21 hours.
According to Reuters, Hungarian epidemiologist Andras Csilek labeled the decision to invite healthcare workers “absurd,” adding that “just about everyone in the health care sector will work on Covid cases soon … it is a feel-good story, but I don’t think it should be allowed.”
“The measures are strict and there is not a question of health risks for the fans,” UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said in a press conference on Thursday.
“We want — and health is the number one priority — to bring hope, to do what we think is the proper thing to do.
“Don’t think we are doing this because of money because we don’t get any revenue, we get more costs with it. But fans and players are the essential part of football. We (UEFA) are just accompanying persons.”
In a statement on Wednesday, the Hungarian Football Association noted that the game will be less risky than indoor events and safer than crowding on a street.
“Thanks to strict precautions, the Puskas Arena will be a safer venue than any other point in the country or even the whole of Europe at the time of the match,” it said.
The match comes in the same week that the UK government has postponed plans to allow fans back into sports grounds from October 1 amid a second wave of infections.
Sevilla is yet to get its La Liga campaign underway this season, although the team is in good form having last suffered defeat in February. Bayern, meanwhile, started its domestic season with an 8-0 thumping of Schalke.