DORTMUND, Germany, May 15 (Reuters) - Fans preparing to follow the action in the first top-flight professional soccer league to resume after the COVID-19 lockdown should be prepared to keep their distance or risk seeing future matches cancelled, the mayor of Dortmund said.
The German Bundesliga will resume on Saturday with Borussia Dortmund facing rivals Schalke 04, a local derby that will be played in an empty stadium in order to minimise the risk of infection.
The game will be played with unprecedented precautions put in place, including a heavy police presence outside the stadium, where authorities expect fans will gather even if they cannot go inside.
Another worry is that anti-lockdown protesters who gathered in many cities around Germany last weekend will use the game as an excuse to stage a confrontation - a possibility for which city Mayor Ullrich Sierau said authorities were prepared.
“We will not allow the derby to be used for any political stirring whatsoever,” he told a news conference on Friday. “If it means a person doesn’t die because of the virus, then we’ll gladly do without the next match.”
Police will be prepared to intervene to stop things getting out of hand outside the stadium, Dortmund police chief Gregor Lange said.
“The soccer fans have a chance to prove that the decision to resume playing wasn’t a mistake,” he said.
A total of 321 people will be allowed inside Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion. Substitutes will be seated far apart, and players from each team will be split between two different changing rooms to maximise social distancing.
Even so, many have been critical of the decision to resume soccer so soon, with Karl Lauterbach, a Social Democrat legislator who is also a professor of epidemiology, saying the decision to do so was driven by a desire for money.
“The hygiene rules aren’t in the least bit convincing: it endangers players and sets a bad example for citizens,” he said. “I think this decision was driven by the economic pressure on the clubs, especially from television rights.” (Reporting by Reuters TV, writing by Thomas Escritt Editing by Christian Radnedge)