DUESSELDORF, Germany－The coronavirus pandemic has brought a new dividing line to the Champions League this season.
No longer is it only the super rich clubs against everyone else. There is now a split between those playing in front of fans and those playing in empty stadiums.
As of Monday, seven of the 16 games being played on Tuesday and Wednesday will have at least a few fans, with more than 20,000 possible for Juventus’ visit to Dynamo Kiev. But with coronavirus case numbers rising in many countries, the situation can change fast.
RB Leipzig, a semifinalist last season, voided some tickets Monday after its maximum attendance was cut from 8,500 to 999 for Tuesday’s game against Istanbul Basaksehir. Some of next week’s hosts are still waiting for confirmation from local authorities before releasing tickets.
Local rules in each country apply, with some extra requirements from UEFA. No away fans are allowed and stadiums must be capped at 30 percent capacity even if national leagues allow more.
Rennes is the only club from Europe’s big five leagues playing with more than 1,000 fans at home this week. The French club expects 5,000 for its first Champions League group game against Krasnodar, another club making its debut. Lazio and Inter Milan have 1,000 each under Italian rules.
In Germany, Leipzig will be allowed some fans for its game, but European champion Bayern Munich won’t be when it hosts Atletico Madrid on Wednesday because the infection rate in the city is higher. Borussia Dortmund and Borussia Moenchengladbach are tracking the local situation for their home games next week.
Salzburg plans to have 3,000 fans against Lokomotiv Moscow on Wednesday ahead of new restrictions in Austria which will cut maximum attendances to 1,500 from Friday. In Ukraine, Dynamo Kiev has approval from the health ministry to reach 30 percent capacity in the 70,000-seat Olympic Stadium, which hosted the 2018 Champions League final.
Russia has allowed up to 50 percent capacity at domestic games but the three Russian clubs in the Champions League will have to comply with UEFA’s 30 percent limit. Zenit Saint Petersburg has asked fans to wear masks and gloves for Tuesday’s match against Belgium’s Club Brugge in the 68,000-capacity Gazprom Arena. That game could rival Dynamo Kiev-Juventus as the best attended of the week.
No fans will be allowed at games in England and Spain. The British government has stopped trials with spectators at sports events as the infection rate climbs.
Barcelona asked regional authorities to approve 1,000 spectators for its match against Ferencvaros on Wednesday as part of a plan to gradually ramp up attendance through the group stage, but it will instead play in an empty stadium. Dutch team Ajax will host Liverpool without fans on Wednesday and Greek club Olympiakos will do the same with Marseille.
Paris Saint-Germain’s game against Manchester United on Tuesday was played in an empty stadium Parc des Princes stadium under French curfew rules.
Fans of Danish club Midtjylland won’t be there when the team makes its Champions League debut against Atalanta on Wednesday, though some sponsors’ guests may make it in. Danish rules allow 500 people in the stadium, including teams and officials, and “UEFA alone comes with over 100 people”, Midtjylland spokesman Mads Hviid Jakobsen told Associated Press.
Some clubs have moved stadiums during the pandemic, for very different reasons.
Real Madrid is using a 6,000-seat venue at its training base for La Liga and Champions League games. Madrid is pushing ahead with renovations at the much larger Santiago Bernabeu Stadium while fans are excluded.
Hungarian club Ferencvaros has moved two of its three home games to a bigger stadium to allow in more fans for matches against Juventus and Barcelona later in the group stage.
The 67,000-seat Puskas Arena hosted the Super Cup between Bayern and Sevilla last month with just over 15,000 spectators, though infection rates in Hungary have risen since then. Ferencvaros is playing Champions League soccer for the first time in 25 years.
Just as with cases of fan violence or racist behavior, clubs are responsible for their supporters keeping to social-distancing rules.
UEFA has warned that it could hand out punishments if fans ignore their assigned seats and gather in big groups. Sanctions are also possible if fans or players “jeopardize the team bubbles” by coming into close contact during celebrations.
“Failure by spectators to comply with these regulations, such as engaging in crowding and congregating in groups, will be reported and could lead to possible disciplinary sanctions,” UEFA said Monday.