German minister chides 'irresponsible' UEFA over Euro 2020 crowds

·2 min read
Euro 2020 - Round of 16 - England v Germany

By Emma Thomasson

BERLIN (Reuters) -A German minister called European soccer's governing body UEFA "utterly irresponsible" on Thursday for allowing big crowds at the Euro 2020 tournament during a spike in the coronavirus crisis from the Delta variant.

With COVID-19 restrictions varying from nation-to-nation, crowd sizes have ranged from completely full, such as 60,000 in Budapest, to 25-45 percent capacity in other venues where there have often been around 10-15,000 spectators.

"UEFA's position is utterly irresponsible," German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told a news conference.

"I cannot explain why UEFA is not being sensible ...I suspect it is due to commercialism."

Seehofer said a match with 60,000 spectators - such as Hungary's Puskas Arena and also planned for the semi-finals and final at London's Wembley stadium - would inevitably promote the spread of COVID-19.

At matches in Munich, he noted, only 14,500 fans were allowed in and all were required to wear masks, keep their distance and upload a negative COVID-19 test into an app.

In a statement to Reuters, UEFA said it was "fully alligned" with local health authorities' guidelines at every venue.

"The final decisions with regards to the number of fans attending matches and the entry requirements to any of the host countries and host stadiums fall under the responsibility of the competent local authorities, and UEFA strictly follows any such measures," it said.

WHO ANXIOUS TOO

While Europeans have been loving watching the tournament, concern over the potential health knock-on has been rising.

Scotland's health authority said earlier this week that 1,991 people had been identified as attending a Euro 2020 event while infectious, of whom 1,294 had travelled to London and 397 gone to Wembley where England played Scotland.

Finland said more than 300 nationals were infected while supporting their team.

And Russia's deputy prime minister has called for a ban on gatherings of more than 500 people. St Petersburg is due to host a quarter-final on Friday, with 50% capacity allowed in a stadium that would usually hold 68,000 people.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) also weighed in on Thursday, saying crowds at Euro 2020 football stadiums and in pubs and bars in host cities were driving an infection rise.

But UEFA's Euro 2020 medical advisor Daniel Koch said vaccinations and border controls would prevent a big new wave.

"It cannot be totally excluded that events and gatherings could ultimately lead to some local increase in the number of cases," he said.

"But this would not only apply to football matches but also to any kind of situations that are now allowed as part of the easing measures decided by the competent local authorities."

(Reporting by Emma Thomasson in Berlin and Manasi Pathak in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Mitch Phillips in LondonEditing by Maria Sheahan and Andrew Cawthorne)

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