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Football stadiums across Germany will once again restrict access to spectators as the country copes with another coronavirus wave. Borussia Dortmund vs. Bayern Munich will take place in front of just 15,000 fans.
Bundesliga games will once again have limited stadium capacity as Germany battles a fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
Germany's national government and state officials agreed to only allow up to 50% capacity in sports venues with a cap at 15,000 for outdoor venues and 5,000 for indoor venues.
The measures also include a mask mandate, the closing of standing terraces and so-called "2G" rules, which means only people who are either vaccinated against or recovered from COVID-19 will be allowed admittance into venues. In addition, closed-door matches, and even the postponement of matches, will also be possible in areas with high infection rates.
The announcement comes as Germany reported more than 73,000 new cases on Thursday. Parts of the country, especially in the eastern state of Saxony and in some parts of Bavaria, have an incidence rate of more than 1,000 cases per 100,000 inhabitants the last seven days.
German football has become well acquainted with so-called "Geisterspiele," or "ghost games." After a two-month hiatus, the end of the 2019-20 season was played behind closed doors, and most games during the 2020-21 campaign were held without spectators.
The DFL, the company that operates Germany's top two divisions, said the decision was "understandable," but it called on German policymakers to develop a more effective strategy to tackle the country's coronavirus situation.
"It is unfortunate that, due to the conditions of the pandemic and the still low vaccination rate in Germany, restrictions in many areas of life are at all necessary," DFL president Christian Seifert said in a statement.
"This situation needs a sophisticated, comprehensible and, above all, effective strategy from policymakers. A temporary restriction on the admission of fans to stadiums is therefore understandable in principle.
"The DFL hopes that this decision by the federal and state governments will lay the groundwork for a swift improvement in the pandemic situation."
Ahead of the decision, some German politicians had called for football matches to be played behind closed doors.
"If Christmas markets are closed, it's illogical to have full stadiums," Bavaria's state premier Markus Söder said earlier this week.
To Söder's counterpart in North-Rhine Westfalia, Hendrik Wüst, a complete stadium ban doesn't make sense. "I don't think we're better off with that because people will still watch their games," Wüst told German public broadcaster ARD on Wednesday. "They'll still go to the pubs, they'll go to the basement bars."
But Wüst, whose state has an incidence rate of just over half Germany's national average, supports reducing stadium capacity and was critical of the fact that last Saturday's match between Cologne and Borussia Mönchengladbach had 50,000 fans in attendance.
"The crucial thing is that pictures like the one of the weekend in Cologne must not and will not happen again," he said.
Some Bundesliga clubs have already begun shutting their doors to spectators. In hard-hit Saxony, RB Leipzig, which has reported multiple coronavirus cases among their players and staff, played their last game against Leverkusen in front of empty stands at Red Bull Arena. Next week's Champions League game against Manchester City will also take place behind closed doors.
But there are some who don't find so-called "ghost games" an appropriate response to Germany's current predicament.
"I do not find ghost games proportionate," FC Augsburg CEO Michael Ströll told German press agency DPA. "We can implement infection control well under the current conditions and the existing hygiene concepts, which are regarded as exemplary worldwide."
German clubs are also still recovering from the effect empty stadiums have had on revenues, so some fear what another round of "ghost games" could do to the clubs finances.
"Games without fans will give us an enormous challenge," Stuttgart chairman Thomas Hitzlsperger said earlier this week, adding that he hoped German politicians would "keep seeing organized sport as part of the solution and not the problem."
dv/mf (dpa, SID)