COVID-19: German ban on large soccer crowds will continue amid 'serious' concerns

On Saturday, Union Berlin will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its Stadion An der Alten Foersterei by playing Nuremberg, its opponent 100 years ago, in front of 5,000 fans.

Union Berlin, whose stadium seats only 22,012 fans, hopes to get approval from the Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf health department for allowing up to 5,000 attendees during the 2020-21 Bundesliga season, which will kick off on Sept. 18. Whether other Bundesliga will try to get approvals remains to be seen.

Bundesliga, the first major sports league that return play following the COVID-19 outbreak that shut down sports around the world, won't be welcoming back fans in great numbers before the end of the year. A ban on large gatherings has been extended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Dec. 31. That decision came after Merkel met with Germany's 16 state governors on Thursday.

The German Football League had formulated various proposals for allowing fans when play resumes, but it cautioned they were entirely dependent on the health situation.

“If and when fans will return to the stadiums is not a decision for the DFL but for the political leaders,” German Football League CEO Christian Seifert, who spearheaded German soccer's successful restart, said in early August. “The DFL does not expect or demand anything but we are preparing to take this small step when the time comes. Priority is not full stadiums but the health situation. We should not take unnecessary risks but we should also not capitulate and just expect it to go away.”

The decision by the Merkel government follows an increase in coronavirus cases across Europe and extends the ban -- initially set to run until Oct. 31 -- on large events where hygiene and tracing can’t be ensured.

"We have to expect that some things will be even more difficult in the coming months than in summer," Merkel said at news conference in Berlin on Friday. "It is serious. As serious as it ever was. And keep taking it seriously. We will have to keep living with this virus."

Bavarian governor Markus Soeder, who had backed the Bundesliga restart plan in May, recently said allowing fans to attend games "would send a devastating signal to the public, both in terms of what it means for medical capacities and in relation to cultural events."

The 5,000 limit is what is in place in France's Ligue 1, which restarted last week after being off since March.
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