SRTRC

Last week, the first round of 2020 Nations League fixtures were played behind closed doors in line with UEFA’s return-to-play protocols.

Football Supporters’ Europe (FSE) monitored the games and related media coverage before surveying national team supporters’ organisations. The survey covered subjects such as communication with national football associations, television broadcasts, fan activism around behind closed doors games, and the upcoming fixtures in October.

Survey results show that 92 percent of Fans’ Embassies had communication with their respective national football associations prior to their Nations League fixtures. Discussions took place in relation to the health, wellbeing, and safety of supporters. FSE reiterates its position that “the health of players, staff, fans, and the general public must always come first.” FSE also supports meaningful dialogue between fans’ representatives and the relevant bodies at every level of the game. This should include health safety protocols and other operational measures, both in terms of behind closed doors games and games played with spectators.

Discussions also centred upon fan-led solidarity initiatives and Covid-19 related tributes to be displayed in stadia. Good examples of this include Cardiff, Copenhagen, Dublin, and Glasgow, where fans were invited to display personal flags on the terraces. Germany played host to similar scenes. Irresistibles Francais, meanwhile, covered their usual section in the Stade de France (Paris) with a banner that read “Here beats the heart of the blues.” In Cardiff, the Welsh F.A. continued its stand against racism by teaming up with education charity Show Racism the Red Card. In addition to positioning a large flag in the main stand, players from both sides took the knee just before kickoff.

Despite this dialogue and mutual support, however, many national football associations chose to prioritise the needs of sponsors. In Spain and Sweden, for instance, cloth advertisements covered vast swathes of the empty tribunes—the former hosted a particularly egregious automobile advert that filled an entire stand behind one of the goals. Yet further proof that some stakeholders are more equal than others.

Over 70 percent of international fixtures were broadcast on free to air television in the nations that were competing. Unfortunately, this was not the case in the UK and Ireland, where fans had to pay to watch their team. In Denmark, fixtures were not on free to air television, but the broadcaster offered a free trial period that covered both of their Nations League fixtures.

The survey indicated that artificial crowd noise was compulsory in over 30 percent of televised international games. Fans of Belgium and France had to endure both games with obligatory augmented crowd noise. Other domestic broadcasters did not deem it necessary to add artificial crowd noise to the Kazakhstan v Belarus Nations League game, but other European TV channels did, opting to insert completely unrelated chants from FIFA20. As FSE has pointed out before, empty stadia are a direct consequence of a public health crisis that has impacted every single one of us, and the absence of fans cannot be compensated for by a computer simulation. At the very least, FSE urges broadcasters to provide viewers with a choice.

Looking forward, FSE welcomes the news that a small number of national football associations—Northern Ireland, Wales, and France, amongst others—have begun liaising with Fans’ Embassies and/or other fans’ organisations ahead of the second round of fixtures next month. FSE urges other associations to follow their lead by engaging in meaningful consultation with fans’ representatives, especially on the potential return of spectators.

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