German government hints at smaller crowds or empty stadiums

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The German government has suggested that large crowds at sporting events should be reduced on Monday after a weekend that included a Bundesliga match in an empty stadium and another with a crowd of 50,000.

Germany is leaving the policy on sporting events during the coronavirus pandemic to state governments, but there are calls for a more unified approach.

Leipzig played in the first Premier League game of the season on Sunday in an empty stadium, losing 3-1 to Bayer Leverkusen as their home state Saxony has the highest infection rates in Germany. The day before, Cologne was cleared 50,000 for its 4-1 victory over local rivals Borussia Mönchengladbach.

Some other states have allowed crowds, but at a greatly reduced capacity. Across the country, entry is usually limited to people with proof of vaccination or proof that they have recently recovered from a coronavirus infection.

Spokesman for outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel, Steffen Seibert, said it is “really difficult to understand why 50,000 people are gathering in a football stadium, even if it has been approved”, at a time when the experts say that contact should be reduced.

“This inequality between the German states in the pandemic with regard to major events – which does not only affect sport, but other major events – is really unsatisfactory,” said the spokesperson for the ministry for the Interior, Steve Alter. Outgoing Home Secretary Horst Seehofer has been saying for weeks that it should be cut, Alter added.

The different approaches are “a sign for (Seehofer) that it might make sense to respond to this at the federal level,” Alter said.

The outgoing government is expected to step down next week and Seehofer’s party will go into opposition. The new coalition has yet to name a successor.

Some regional politicians go even further. Baden-Württemberg Governor Winfried Kretschmann on Monday indicated his intention to “massively restrict or ban” large-scale sporting events, in comments reported by dpa. Bremen Home Secretary Ulrich Mäurer suggested last week that the football season be suspended altogether.

European countries have taken radically different approaches to allowing crowds at sporting events as winter begins and cases of the coronavirus increase. The English Premier League have played to packed houses all season so far without any vaccination or testing requirements for fans. The Netherlands moved to empty stadiums for sporting events this month.

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