On Saturday 27 March, the Netherlands hosted Latvia in a qualifying match for the 2022 World Cup. Instead of the now traditional behind closed doors, 5,000 Dutch fans, masked or unmasked, took place in the Johan Cruyff Arena. All had been tested for Covid-19 during the day, a first track to promote the return of the public to the stadiums.
What if supporters returned to the stadiums faster than expected? It had been a long time since they had been seen glued together and without a mask. As part of the initiative Back to Live Supported by the government, 5,000 Dutch fans, or one tenth of the Johan Cruyff Arena’s capacity, have been allowed to watch the Netherlands-Latvia World Cup qualifying match on Saturday 27 March. A first step towards the gradual return of fans to the stadiums, in complete safety.
For this, several conditions had to be met. The lucky ones were tested the same morning on several sites chosen by the government. Once at the entrance to the stadium, each of them had to present the result of their test via a QR Code.
They then divided into nine groups, with different recommendations: some were to keep their masks on when others were allowed to do without them in order to sing, shout and clap in support of their team. During the match, the behavior of the supporters, the number of contacts between them, as well as the evolution of the air quality in the stadium were monitored.
“We don’t want to play in empty stands, but to play for the fans. Hopefully this is the first step and that we can welcome even more people during the European Championship“, welcomed the Dutch coach Frank de Boer before the meeting. The Johan Cruyff Arena will also host four meetings this summer, on the occasion of Euro 2021.
At the same time, in Barcelona, a rock concert brought together 5,000 people, also as an experiment. While gatherings are limited to four people in the country, onlookers, tested beforehand, were able to dance, sing and party without a safe distance.
In an interview with BFM TV March 19, the Minister of Education, Youth and Sports, Jean-Michel Blanquer, had mentioned the case of the Dutch experiment. “These are interesting experiments. We are watching this closely with Roxana Maracineanu (Minister Delegate in charge of Sports). We obviously have a great desire to return to the stadium but it has to happen in good conditions, why not with this kind of formula.“
On February 26, Roxana Maracineanu was already discussing the possibility of leading “in three or four weeks“experiments leading to a return of spectators to sports arenas. Noël le Graët, the president of the French Football Federation, also hoped to welcome supporters on the occasion of the France-Ukraine match, on March 24 at the Stade France But to date, no such initiative has yet been carried out in France in sports arenas, and the same goes for theaters and concerts.
For Jean-Paul Stahl, professor of infectious and tropical diseases at Grenoble University Hospital, “there is no problem letting 5,000 people enter a stadium with a capacity of 55,000, provided that they are dispersed so that they do not become contaminated. We must also ensure to regulate the flow of entries and exits from the stadium. “