BUDAPEST — Two top European soccer clubs, Bayern Munich and Sevilla, faced off as scheduled in front of thousands of fans in Budapest on Thursday night despite a sharp rise in coronavirus cases in Hungary.
The match, for the UEFA Super Cup, was played before about 15,500 people at Puskas Stadium, less than a quarter of the arena’s capacity, organizers said, as part of a range of virus-prevention measures. Bayern Munich defeated Sevilla 2-1 in extra time.
“We worked really hard with the authorities here to try and make the circumstances align so that it’s safe for people to attend,” said Philip Townsend, communications director for UEFA, European soccer’s governing body.
Hungary is experiencing a surge in recorded coronavirus cases that is significantly higher than the numbers seen when Covid-19 entered the country earlier this year.
Budapest was designated a “risk area” by the German government last week because of an increased number of recorded coronavirus cases, and Markus Söder, the leader of the state of Bavaria, where Munich is situated, warned Monday of the dangers of the coronavirus spreading at the game.
Concerns over the virus at the Super Cup, in which the winners of the two top Europe-wide club competitions were pitted against each other, may be grounded in recent memory. In February, a soccer game was seen as a factor that contributed to the acceleration of the virus in Italy.
UEFA made 6,000 tickets available to fans of both Sevilla and Bayern Munich, but it appeared that neither club could muster enough attendees to take advantage of their allotments. Only 500 Sevilla fans were expected to travel to Budapest, and around 1,300 from Munich, according to UEFA.
Of the remaining tickets, an estimated 90 percent were sold to Hungarian fans. UEFA and the Hungarian Football Federation announced this month that they would give employees of the Hungarian national ambulance service 500 tickets.
Ferenc Falus, Hungary’s former chief medical officer, criticized the decision to go ahead with the game, and raised concerns that fans would not follow social distancing guidelines during the game, or before and after it outside the stadium.
“This is a human experiment,” he said.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s enthusiasm for soccer is well known, and his government has aggressively steered public funds into the game at a time when Hungary’s health care system remains underfunded.
With coronavirus test positivity rates above 10 percent, Dr. Falus said, “there are no guarantees this will not lead to more illness, hospitalizations, even deaths in the days and weeks after the game.”
The concerns of medical experts like Dr. Falus were played down by event organizers who said that coronavirus mitigation measures would ensure the safety of fans.
“I wouldn’t call it an experiment,” says Jeno Sipos, a spokesman for the Hungarian Football Federation. “It’s a priority project in which the organizing committee determines how the match can be played with the most stringent safety measures in place.”
The temperature of fans was taken at the gates. Mask-wearing was compulsory throughout the stadium but only “strongly advised” for fans in their seats, with one and a half meters mandated between people not paired together. Social distancing was also compulsory at concession stands, and the men’s restrooms were reorganized to provide more distance.
But after the match, Bayern fans, few of them wearing masks, crowded closely next to one another as their team celebrated on the pitch.
Some fans had complained beforehand of a lack of coherent guidelines for those attempting to enter Hungary from abroad.
Ronan Evain, executive director of Football Supporters Europe, an association of soccer fans that claims to have members in 48 European countries, said that the Hungarian Embassy in Paris had been unable to answer questions regarding entry requirements into the country just days before the match.
“It was harder to leave my home country than it was to enter Hungary,” he says, citing what he described as confusion over entry requirements and misunderstandings at the airport in France, where authorities seemed unaware of the special arrangements made for travelers to the match.
Upon entering Hungary, he said, he was asked to provide the results of his coronavirus test, which the authorities did not seem to notice was issued in French, and he was not asked where he would stay and when he would be leaving.
Mr. Evain’s quest to attend the Super Cup involved “a lot of improvisation and uncertainty,” and he was frustrated that adequate information about health and safety protocols were not communicated to fans. “Anything you publish has to be crystal clear, and that definitely has not been the case for this game.”