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Dortmund chief argues against football behind closed doors

Borussia Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke has criticised the decision to put Bundesliga matches back behind closed doors due to high numbers of Covid-19 in Germany.

Borussia Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke (L), wearing a face mask, watches a German Bundesliga football match
Borussia Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke (L), wearing a face mask, watches a German Bundesliga football match in 2020. Bundesliga games must be played without spectators currently. Michael Sohn / POOL / AFP

Last month, the government ordered Bundesliga games to be played without spectators to try to curb the spread of the virus.

READ ALSO: Covid infections rise in Germany as Omicron spreads

Dortmund are second in the Bundesliga table behind Bayern Munich.

Matches in Germany’s top flight resume Friday in front of empty terraces after a two-week winter break, but Watzke argued for allowing small numbers of fans to return.

“I am not interested in now filling up stadiums, that would be completely the wrong signal to send,” Watzke told magazine Der Spiegel.

“But I think 10 per cent of the stadium capacity would be appropriate.”

Dortmund’s impressive Signal Iduna Park stadium can hold 80,000 and Watzke wants to see it “even 10 per cent” full.

“Eight thousand spectators could be distributed in such a way that they have virtually nothing to do with each other physically,” Watzke said.

“With 8,000 spectators at our stadium, the risk of infection would be low, and to be honest, everyone knows that.”

Watzke says each Dortmund home game behind closed doors costs the club four million euros ($4.5 million) in lost matchday revenue, calling it “hardly economically viable”.

He warns that some German football clubs may be forced out of business unless fans are allowed to return soon.

“This will kill off an entire industry,” said Watzke, the new chairman of the German Football League (DFL) supervisory board.

“In addition, the connection between the club and its fans will be destroyed to a large extent.

“Some of the spectators will not come back.

“As a result, we will have even bigger problems in five or 10 years.”

Watzke also echoed the sentiments of Union Berlin president Dirk Zingler by suggesting “football is being used for symbolic politics” in the fight against the virus.

“Explain to me why music halls can be filled twice a day with 750 people, at 45 per cent capacity, but no spectators are allowed in big open-air stadiums,” he asked.

“It does make you feel a bit let down.”

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COVID-19 RULES

Bavaria pushes for stricter Covid regulations in autumn

Health ministers across Germany's 16 states are debating the government's new Covid plan - and politicians in Bavaria say they want more clarity.

Bavaria pushes for stricter Covid regulations in autumn

On Tuesday, federal and state health ministers planned to discuss the Covid protection proposals for autumn and winter presented last week by Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) and Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP).

However, some states and politicians are not satisfied with the plans. 

Under the proposals, masks will remain mandatory in air and long-distance transport, as well as clinics, nationwide. But federal states will be able to choose themselves whether to introduce further measures like mandatory masks on public and regional transport.

States will also have the power to take tougher Covid measures if the situation calls for it, such as mandatory masks indoors, but lockdowns and school closures have been ruled out. 

READ ALSO Masks and no lockdowns: Germany’s new Covid plan from autumn to Easter

The draft law states that there can be exceptions from wearing masks in indoor spaces, such as restaurants, for recently Covid-vaccinated or recovered people. 

But Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek (CSU) told DPA that these planned exemptions were not justified because vaccinated and recovered people can still transmit infections. “There are clear gaps in the current draft law,” said the CSU politician.

Dominik Spitzer, health policy spokesman for the FDP parliamentary group in the Bavarian state parliament, also questioned this exception, saying the rules “simply made no sense”.

“With the current virus variant, that would be impossible to convey, since even vaccinated people can continue to carry the virus,” the FDP politician told Bavarian broadcaster BR24. 

The coalition government’s graduated plan under the new Infection Protection Act, is set to be in force from October 1st until April 7th next year. 

The powers for the states are a first step, “but they do not go far enough for us”, Holetschek added, while calling for some points to be tightened up. “We need strong guidelines for autumn and winter.”

Holetschek said the government needed to tighten up the criteria with which states can adopt and enforce more effective measures to protect against the spread of Covid-19.

READ ALSO: Could Germany see a ‘patchwork’ of Covid rules?

Meanwhile, CDU health politician Erwin Rüddel said Germany was on the “wrong track” and the country should find “a completely different approach” to Covid policy than it has so far.

He accused the coalition government of being in “panic mode” and said he doubted the Bundestag would pass the proposals.

“I believe, there will be significant changes (to the draft)”, he said.

But the chairperson of the doctors’ association Marburger Bund, Susanne Johna, backed the plans.

“The proposal for the new Infection Protection Act gives the states sufficient possibilities to react adequately to the infection situation,” Johna told the Rheinische Post on Tuesday.

“The states can take regionally adapted measures to protect people if the need arises. I can’t understand why this concept is being called into question right away.”

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