Will UEFA keep its date in Budapest?



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Hungary Puskás Aréna - Sept. 2020 update Image: Puskás Aréna

The chaos which COVID-19 has created in the whole world is simply not stopping. The fatal respiratory disease has now cast its long shadow on the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Super Cup. The reason – Hungary is closing its borders to foreigners from Tuesday due to rising cases of coronavirus. The million dollar question now is will Super Cup take place or not?

The UEFA Super Cup is an annual super cup football match organized by the UEFA and contested by the reigning champions of the two main European club competitions, the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League. It is not recognized as one of UEFA’s ‘major’ competitions.

The UEFA is however keeping its fingers crossed and is hoping that the match between Champions League winners FC Bayern Munich and Europa League winners FC Sevilla will take place in Budapest on September 24th.
 

In a state of flux

Foreigners are only allowed to enter Hungary with a valid reason from September 1st. Is football a part of it?

The UEFA is in constant touch with the Hungarian Government. A statement sent out by UEFA stated, “The UEFA will not take any risks for people’s safety, but is in contact with those responsible. UEFA is working closely with the Hungarian Football Association and its Government to take measures to ensure the health of all spectators and participants in the game. The entry regulations into Hungary for different target groups (players, officials, partners, staff, media, and fans) are also part of these discussions.”

UEFA is actually planning to allow several thousand fans in the Puskas Arena. Up to 30 percent of the approximately 67,000 seats are to be filled, which would be around 20,000 spectators.

The Super Cup was originally supposed to take place in Porto (Portugal), but was moved to Budapest due to the pandemic. And now it seems the coronavirus has chased it to Budapest.

Last week, at the Government’s weekly press conference, Gergely Gulyás, head of the Prime Minister’s Office, announced that the Hungarian Government has decided to close Hungary’s borders to foreigners starting on September 1st, and to reintroduce increased border protection measures. However, Gulyás added that the Government has not yet made a final decision concerning the upcoming European Super Cup Final, adding that it cannot be foreseen what the epidemic situation will be in four weeks time.

However, at the moment it still seems that the match will be held in front of spectators.

For the time being, Gulyás only speculated on potential exceptional rules for the foreign spectators, as the Operative Board is still finalizing the measures. The Head of the PMO said that “we can imagine that if we can really hold the European Super Cup final under the current rules – and Bayern München and Sevilla are both given 3,000 tickets by UEFA, for a total of 6,000 foreign fans – they could arrive at the airport with two negative tests, from where we take them straight to the stadium and then back to the airport.”

As per UEFA, a reduced number of spectators – up to 30 percent of the capacity of the stadium – will be allowed to attend. The Puskás Arena can accommodate up to 67,000 people, which means around 20,000 spectators will be able to watch the match on the spot. Regarding how they can prevent the virus spreading among 20,000 attendees, Gulyás said that according to UEFA rules, only every third place will be filled in the stadium.

However, he added that there are still almost four weeks before the match takes place, “and we don’t know what will happen, maybe there won’t even be an audience”.
 

Fraught with risks

János Szlávik, the Chief Epidemiologist at the South Pest Central Hospital (Budapest), told mediapersons that the steep increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in Hungary in recent days is the direct consequence of “loosening epidemiological discipline”. Apparently, fewer and fewer people are wearing face covers, while many family events, parties, sports events and weddings are being held.

He said that “we must not get the epidemic to spread with excessive negligence. Everyone should think the current situation a bit over: Where we are now, how many patients there are, why we have so many patients, and how to behave in social spaces. Let’s try to postpone events where there is a chance that asymptomatic infected people will infect others.”

He termed the UEFA Super Cup final as a “risky attempt” from the organizers to allow fans into this sporting event – “While this may be an important test of how well epidemiological safety regulations work at a mass event like a football game, the big question is how well fans adhere to those rules at all.”
 

Opposition fumes

Meanwhile, Hungary’s Opposition party Democratic Coalition (DK) said at a press conference that although the Government has introduced strict measures at the borders, this does not apply to the UEFA Super Cup final.

“The thousands of football fans are, of course, exempt from these [entry requirements] as well: They are also admitted to the country with tests they have taken abroad. In other words, while a football spectator from Seville, which produces thousands of infections a day, can enter Hungary smoothly, for those Hungarians who have fled abroad from the Government, this opportunity will not be given at all, they will be quarantined for two weeks by the Orbán (Viktor Orbán is the Prime Minister of Hungary) Government.”

Balázs Barkóczi, spokesman for DK added that according to the Democratic Coalition, it is “astonishing” that the Prime Minister’s hobby and the UEFA Super Cup Final are more important to the Orbán Government than its own citizens.

He added, “We, European Hungarians find it unacceptable that Hungarian citizens who come home from abroad are required to take an otherwise extremely expensive PCR test, while those who come to a football match can bring a test result from home. It’s just the cherry on top that they want to let thousands of foreign football fans into the country and sit them in a stadium, despite the Government itself saying that all countries except Hungary are dangerous due to the level of coronavirus infection.”

If the Super Cup is still held in front of spectators: Apart from the Hungarian audience, 3,000 football fans each from Spanish professional football club FC Sevilla and German professional sports club Bayern München will also be able to spectate the match in person which is fraught with risks as COVID-19 cases register a rise in Hungary.

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