All of Europe is watching the consequences of this game

It seemed surreal, like in the middle of the corona pandemic: 25,000 spectators flocked to the stadium for the Belgrade soccer cup duel. But what should you think of it? A search for traces.

“I’ve been bombarded with media inquiries all morning,” an employee of the Serbian Football Association (FSS) – who wants to remain anonymous – told “Mostly from Western European media that ask very negative questions and reproach us that the game took place.”

But what exactly is it about?

The soccer game of which the whole world is currently talking took place in Belgrade on Wednesday: Cup semi-finals, FK Partizan against Red Star (1-0). A traditional duel. And yet, under normal circumstances, not a game that is widely discussed outside of Serbia.

But when in Corona times 25,000 spectators gather in the Partizan stadium to celebrate the “Eternal Derby”, it is worth more than just a side note.

The question is: how can it be that a football derby can be held in front of full ranks just two hours away from Germany? A search for traces.

After weeks of rigorous curfews and further measures to reduce the number of infections, Serbia only has 14 acute corona patients. Also in order to take this success in the fight against the pandemic into account, the government has decided to allow open-air events for an unlimited number of participants from June 1 – and thus to make it possible to visit the football stadium. “The game was carried out in accordance with the decision of the Serbian government,” emphasizes the FSS employee.

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And yet it can be said: In the rest of Europe, some leagues were completely canceled due to the pandemic. In Germany, the clubs of the first three leagues play against a ghost backdrop. The league will soon start again in Spain or England, but then without spectators.

“The stadiums opened at exactly the right moment”

The senior official of the Serbian association argues: “Football is quality of life. We notice that the stadiums opened at exactly the right moment. The people in Serbia want to get out, they want to live again.” A visit to a football stadium, he says, was earned through strict compliance with all guidelines for weeks and the low number of infections. He was important to boost the morale of the entire population.

In addition, it was not in the hands of the association, but in the FK Partizan, to let the game take place in front of spectators. The 27-time Yugoslav and Serbian champion hosted the cup semi-final as the organizer of the “Eternal Derby”. Biljana Obradovic, spokeswoman for the club, told “The FK Partizan prepared the game according to all existing legal regulations and thus complied with all the arrangements for organizing a major public event.” But is that also true?

Talking to fans who watched the game live in the stadium creates doubts.

And that not all measures to contain the corona virus were observed can be seen after just a quick look at the photos of the game: thousands of spectators stand close together in the fan curves, singing, screaming, cheering loudly, hugging for a goal. The prescribed minimum distance of one meter is not always adhered to.

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“The hygiene regulations were implemented rather poorly,” says Partizan fan Arsenije to Marko reports something similar. He stood in the Partizans curve during the derby and remembers: “On the way to the stadium, everyone around me still had protective masks on. But as soon as we entered the curve, we took them off.”

“The anticipation for the game was abnormally high”

Arsenije believes that the violation of the rules in the stadium was born out of emotion. At the beginning there was a noticeable uncertainty among the visitors, but “the anticipation for the game was abnormally high.” As soon as the ball started to roll, there was no stopping in the stands. “All good intentions, all guidelines had to give way to the hope of the fans for a good game at this moment.”

Marko adds: “It is a huge success that we can go back to the stadium.” With only 432 active, mostly mild cases across Serbia, he sees the danger of the pandemic in Serbia as averted, just like the government in Belgrade. “Life in Belgrade is almost like it was before the outbreak of the Corona crisis,” he explains – and life without football is not just inconceivable for him.

Will the “Eternal Derby” now become a “Superspreader” event?

Unlike Arsenije, he has no fears that the historic derby may become a “superspreader” event and negate successes in the fight against Covid-19. “The various stands were cleared at intervals, especially for safety reasons,” he explains. An argument that, given that he and his fellow sufferers had previously screamed their hearts out for two hours and came very close to the person in front on extremely shaky legs.

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But even at Partizan they are not worried about the possible consequences. Rather, one currently lives the old football phrase “after the game is before the game”: “After our great derby victory against Red Star, we are already working on organizing the next game at the Partizan stadium,” said Partizan spokeswoman Obradovic.

It is still completely open whether you will continue to stand alone or other European games could soon take place in front of spectators. It will be interesting to see how the number of infected people develops in Serbia, especially in Belgrade.


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