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Sports News

Fans itch to see live action as UEFA allows first spectators

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Football fans began to arrive on Thursday in the Hungarian capital for Europe’s first major match open to fans since the COVID-19 pandemic began, just as much of the continent tightens its social restrictions for a second wave of the virus.

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European soccer’s governing body UEFA has said the Super Cup, a traditional season opener played this year by Champions League winners Bayern Munich of Germany and Europa League champions Sevilla of Spain, would be safe to attend.

Jan Tanne, a Bayern supporter who flew in to Budapest for 24 hours to attend the first game he was allowed to see since March, said he was not afraid as long as people followed the rules.

“The security concept of the game is good so I guess if you honour the rules and stay 1.5 metres away from other people and avoid big crowds then I guess there is no problem to watch the game,” he said.

Despite UEFA filling the stadium only to one-third of its nominal capacity of 67,000 and painstaking attention to limiting the spread of the coronavirus, there has been a growing number of voices calling for fans to stay away.

UEFA considers the match a safety test before any future game is opened to spectators, which was rejected as cynical by Hungarian opposition groups; but the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, an avid football fan, has persisted.

As the city began to close down large sections of the area around the new state-of-the-art Puskas Arena, fans appeared in the central area that normally bustles with tourists but is now much more deserted as the pandemic keeps visitors at home.

Tanne plans to watch the game, get one night’s sleep in Budapest then return to Bavaria, where Prime Minister Markus Soeder told returning fans they would either have to be tested or face quarantine.

Tanne thinks that move was unwarranted.

“(Soeder) makes rules a little too hard for the Bavarian people, because few days ago there was no problem,” he said. “Then on Monday evening he decides it is a big problem and he talks of Ischgl, the COVID hotspot in Austria.”

The ski resort Ischgl became a continental hotspot when tourists were allowed to socialise then return home, many of them carrying the virus and spreading it around Europe.

“I think he cannot compare Ischgl to the situation here, because there nobody was tested, everybody celebrated near each other,” Tanne added. “Here in Budapest the football game has a hygienic concept... I think it’s everyone’s own choice to stay at home or to come here.”

Far from worried, some Hungarian football fans looked at the match as a golden opportunity to see teams they would normally have to travel far and pay hefty sums to witness in action.

For Zsolt Ladanyi, chairman of the Bayern Munich Hungary fan club, going to the game was a no-brainer, and the 33-year-old also takes his father, 65, with him. He is not ignorant of the risks but says good hygiene and obedience protects fans.

“It is not actually more dangerous than going to the supermarket, where people can stand a lot closer to you at the checkout line,” he told Reuters. “We are really lucky that the game was moved to Budapest from the original venue in Portugal.

“We will respect all the rules,” he added. “I can’t wait to see the match.”

Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Christian Radnedge

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