Budapest, Hungary – Hungary became the first European country to allow football clubs to reopen their stadiums to fans after a two-month break due to the coronavirus, albeit under certain conditions.
For the first time since the league was suspended mid-March, football fans were allowed back into the stadium over the weekend in Hungary after the government decided last week to allow it under the strict condition that fans must keep three empty seats between each other and stay one-and-a-half meters away from one another at all times.
The Hungarian Football Federation has also asked clubs to consider making it mandatory to wear face masks and for fans to buy their tickets online and be somehow registered.
The crowds nevertheless remained small over the weekend, with only 700 officially attending Budapest Honved’s first home game in a while against Debrecen, one of six to take place in Hungary over the weekend.
Most fans observed the restrictions with the stadium announcer continually reminding them to observe social-distancing rules throughout the game.
But the small crowds and strict restrictions didn’t dampen the spirit of the few fans who made it to the game. “We’ve waited for this a long time,” said Hediof, a delighted fan who came with her daughter and son to watch the game. “We’re very happy. We hope this will be a success and that fans can continue going to games. It was also important to go to a match during this time of COVID-19.”
“You can’t replace this feeling of being in a stadium with anything else,” added another fan. “You can’t replace it by watching games on TV. You can now go out to the stadium with your family, everyone’s happy. Nothing can replace that, certainly not watching a game at home on TV.”
The league had already resumed 10 days ago with games held behind closed doors and Honved goalkeeper Robi Levkovich was certainly delighted by the fans’ return: “Of course, it’s more exciting, more emotional, it’s more of a real show than to play without fans. Everyone can see that you play much better with our fans. The level of play is better. It pushes you more. You play not just for yourself, you play for them. They shout at you and you give them more.”
In Poland, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Friday that football fans will be able to attend matches from June 19, but that only 25% of the capacity of stadiums will be used.
With the pandemic seemingly slowing down in Hungary and across Europe, restrictions have gradually been eased across the country, with Budapest fully reopening its bars and restaurants over the weekend.
Justice Minister Judit Varga stated last week that Hungary had successfully concluded the first phase of its efforts against the coronavirus pandemic and that it will be among the first EU member states to rescind its state of emergency order, revoking the much-criticized law that handed sweeping powers to Prime Minister Viktor Orban in March.
The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Hungary now stands at 3,892, with 527 coronavirus-related deaths.