Contact tracing and seating clusters could allow fans back, says Danish Superliga study

Closed-doors Danish Superliga match between FC Copenhagen and FC Midtjylland on June 28. (Photo by Lars Ronbog / FrontZoneSport via Getty Images)

The organisers of the Danish Superliga say contact tracing and the organisation of fans into clusters could allow for a proportion of spectators to return to stadiums before the end of the season.

The Danish Ballgame Union (DBU), Danish Sports Association and the Superliga evaluated the measures at three Superliga matches in the most recent round of the competition to assess their feasibility in reducing the risk of spreading the Covid-19 virus.

Danish regulations currently allow a maximum of 500-people, including players and staff, to attend matches and require two-metre distancing between fans.

But in the test matches, a maximum of 500 spectators were allowed in each seating section of the selected stadiums all of whom were asked to observe two-metre distancing.

The National Police, Danish Serum Institute, the Danish Agency for Patient Safety, DBU and the Divisional Association all evaluated the test games.

Following the matches, the evaluation team concluded that it would be feasible to hold matches between now and the end of the season with the increased maximum capacity of 500 per seating section, and outlined a set of guidelines for achieving this safely.

These include the implementation of a heavily-controlled spectator journey using staggered entry times, in addition to contact tracing of all match attendees.

SportBusiness understands the three sports bodies are holding meetings with the Danish government today to make the case for increasing the maximum stadium capacity and are also asking the authorities to consider reducing the minimum required distance between fans to one metre.

Claus Thomsen, chief executive, Danish Superliga, told SportBusiness:  “We [would] have a controlled spectator journey where there is a preparation phase when you receive your ticket or season ticket, you receive information on the sort of responsible behaviour that is expected in the stadium, the time you should arrive at the stadium and a code of conduct.

“Then we would have the arrival phase where we would bring people to the stadium. We would have very little queuing because people would be told to arrive at different times and we’d control the areas outside.”

The three bodies also argue that interaction between fans could be minimised by blocking off passageways in stadiums and by organising fans into the 500-person clusters per seating section.

“We would have identification of everyone in the stadium which means that we could trace contamination should it occur,” said Thomsen. “If anyone in the stadium gets infected, we could send an email to the remaining 500 [in the same seating section] asking them to be aware of the symptoms, asking them to get tested and asking them to report to the authorities if they have any symptoms.”

The three organisations also published a paper on the return of stadiums to full capacity. The study found that, longer-term, the reduction of two-metre distancing requirements to one metre would be crucial to the financial wellbeing of clubs.

“A two-meter distance requirement means between 6 and 11 per cent capacity utilisation at the stadium. Any company that utilises 6 to 11 per cent of its capacity is not sustainable,” it said.

Read this: 5 technologies to get fans back into stadiums

Thomsen said the league could ultimately reduce the distancing requirements between fans altogether but continue to organise them into clusters, thereby limiting any outbreak of the Covid-19 virus to the smaller groupings.

The three directors of the Superliga, DBU and DIF, respectively Thomsen, Jakob Jensen and Morten Mølholm Hansen, said: “We are extremely pleased with the progress of test matches and evaluation. It has been a fantastic collaboration and we believe the process has shown that we are able to execute as agreed. We can section, identify and secure infection detection at a very high level in a controlled spectator journey.

“Therefore, we are confident that we can safely increase spectator capacity further – and the goal is to get back to something that is close to normal spectator capacity with the start of the coming season.”

The success of the test matches has already paid dividends for this week’s Danish cup final, the DBU Pakalen, between Aalborg BK and Sonderjyske. Authorities in the country agreed that the spectator set-up implemented in the test matches would also apply to the final provided regulators were satisfied with the results of the study. This means a total of 1,790 spectators will be allowed to watch the showpiece event.

Denmark has fared comparatively well during the Covid-19 pandemic having implemented lockdown restrictions early in the crisis on 11 March. At the time of writing, the country had registered 12,751 cases and 605 deaths from the disease.

The finding of the study could also have repercussions for attempts to get spectators into matches in the UK. Authorities in the country are also mulling reducing the 2-metre distancing requirement to one metre to boost the hospitality industry and make it easier to travel on public transport.