It's a bold move!
Reggae Girl Sweatman hails Hungarian authorities for allowing fans into premier division matchesSaturday, May 30, 2020
Hungary's Government and football authorities have boldly decided to resume its men's premier division with fans, the first nation in virus-ravaged Europe to do so.
Germany had given the sport a boost on the continent when the Bundesliga restarted two weeks ago but to the echoes of empty stadia as fans have been kept out due to COVID-19 restrictions, including rigidly enforced social distancing rules.
But Hungary, the central European nation of 9.8 million people, has decided that the football experience is not the same without cheering supporters. Therefore, it took the courageous leap, albeit in adherence to set guidelines.
According to a statement from the national federation (MLSZ), “The size of the crowds will be reduced, and spectators will be spread out so that no more than one seat in four will be occupied and every second row will be entirely empty.”
Fans of the bottom-two clubs, Kapsovar and ZTE, are the first to try the scheme, when their clubs were scheduled to meet yesterday in the Kapsovar stadium, which usually holds up to 7,000.
Five league matches are scheduled over today and tomorrow, including an encounter between league leaders Ferencvaros and Puskas FC, the club from Felcsut, the hometown of football-mad Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Jamaica's Reggae Girlz veteran Marlo Sweatman, who plays professionally in Hungary with top-league Szent Mihaly, believes the move is a stout-hearted one by the Government, but adds that the decision is in keeping with a broader programme of returning the country to a real sense of normality.
“My immediate thoughts were it's a bit bold to start the games with fans. But to be honest, in the country we are fully open for business with some precautions. Also, when the restrictions were being lifted I was a little hesitant and scared of the outcome, but so far it has been great.
“I believe they [State and football officials] are making steps with a lot of thought and research behind it, so again it's a bold move, and I think just like the other decisions the Government has made, this will go fine as the active [COVID-19] cases have gone down,” Sweatman said from her base in Hungary.
The 25-year-old American-born Jamaica international says matches without fans lack soul, and it is only an audience, watching the action from the stands, that can truly electrify the atmosphere.
“The atmosphere makes a huge difference. Of course all footballers play because we love the game, and we would play in the streets with friends when no one is watching, and we would also play in a World Cup match with the whole world watching.
“Still, I think for true footballers, fans won't change the [competitive] level of the match, but football is totally different without fans,” she noted.
For the women's league, COVID-19 has forced a reduced schedule where the top-three clubs in the standings — Ferencvaros Women, MTK Hungaria Women, and DVTK Women — will enter a play-off for the title and the sole Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League spot.
These women's matches, however, will be played without spectators, with the first match due to be contested on Thursday night and the others in the first week of June.
Sweatman, who previously had a professional stint in The Netherlands, said her club which finished down the ladder in the standings had started preparation for the August start of the new season.
“The league has been in full, contact-training mode for three weeks. Our club has got new coaches and players, and they made it very clear they expect us to be in the top four next season, so we are already preparing for the new season starting in August,” Sweatman said.
The Virginia native, a key member of Jamaica's historic team to the Fifa Women's World Cup in France in 2019, said the COVID-19 break allowed her time to introspect and develop a new sense of passion for the sport, even in an air of dread and uncertainty.
“This break really made me realise how much I love the game and how much a big part it plays in my life. Being back on the field 100 per cent feels great, and makes me thankful for the opportunities I have with this sport, and being off the field gave me a perspective of how life will be one day when I retire, so I will appreciate these years ahead when I am still playing,” Sweatman shared with the Jamaica Observer.
Even though she has accepted her fate that a visit home to the USA may not immediately be on the cards, she still yearns for the day when she can be reunited with family and friends who have been cut off by the physically alienating force of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“I'm really looking forward to heading home for a little bit. But unfortunately, it's difficult to find a decent flight home, plus Hungary may not allow me to re-enter once I am coming back from affected USA, so as of now, the best thing is to stay put.
“I'm looking to make a trip home in July before my season starts again, but that most likely will conflict with preseason training, so I may be stuck here until December,” Sweatman concluded.
Hungary, at the time of writing, had recorded more than 3,816 cases and 509 coronavirus-related deaths as the country lifted restrictions to the point where bars and restaurants were due to fully reopen in the capital, Budapest, yesterday.
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