Hungarian league returns with spectators and TV coverage in the Balkans
Eastern Europe is leading the way in terms of staging soccer matches with spectators again, with the Hungarian league admitting a limited number, and other countries such as Russia and Poland making similar plans.
After an absence of more than two months enforced by the coronavirus pandemic, many European leagues are resuming, in large part behind closed doors, amid ongoing health concerns.
However, at the weekend, Hungary’s top-tier OTP Bank Liga became the first to restart with fans. There was an estimated crowd of around 400 for yesterday’s game in the capital Budapest between mid-table sides Honved and Debrecen.
The league is also enjoying greater coverage beyond its borders as a result of a deal with Arena Sport, the regional pay-television operator in the Balkans, which is showing matches in Serbia, Croatia, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro.
The MLSZ, the Hungarian football federation, announced last week that the league could resume with spectators albeit with no more than one seat in four occupied and every second row empty.
In a statement, the federation said: “The clubs organising the matches must ensure that social distance is maintained in the stands to guarantee the conditions for epidemiological control.”
Overcrowding is not expected to be a problem given that the average attendance in the Hungarian top flight in recent seasons was only around 3,000.
Germany’s Bundesliga is the most high-profile league to have resumed, albeit without spectators, and the leading Western European countries are unlikely to countenance fans at matches for the remainder of the season.
However, the Russian Premier League is reported to be considering admitting some members of the public when it gets back under way on 21 June.
Russian sports minister Oleg Matytsin was quoted on Saturday saying: “It's important that the soccer championship resumes in the presence of spectators, even though small in number. I watched Bundesliga matches. The mood is very strange. There isn't enough emotion. Without spectators the matches do not look the way we are used to.”
Russia’s consumer health watchdog said last Thursday that spectators would be allowed to attend top-flight matches if they take up no more than 10 per cent of the stadium capacity.
Poland’s top-tier Ekstraklasa returned, without spectators at venues, at the weekend but is looking to admit fans from 19 June. It was stated at a press conference at the National Stadium in Warsaw on Friday that attendances will be limited to 25 per cent of capacity.
Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said: “We all need football and sport. This is the important element of our return to the new normality. That’s why we give the opportunity to football fans to participate in the events at the stadiums, of course only after securing adequate safety measures. The specific rules will be announced soon.”
The Czech Republic’s Fortuna Liga resumed last week and although spectators cannot attend matches at present, fans were able to watch the high-profile clash between Sparta Prague and Viktoia Plzen on big screens from inside their cars at drive-in cinemas in the respective cities of the two clubs.