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Minister says sporting events can breach 50-person limit, but football season will need time to get started

Finland raised the limit on public gatherings to 50 from 1 June, but football might delay its return. 

Hongan Demba Savage ja IFK Mariehamnin Riku Sjöroos Veikkausliigan ottelussa marraskuussa 2019
Finnish football might not return in June. Image: Matti Raivio / AOP
Yle News

Finland's decison to open up multiple sectors and relax coronavirus restrictions could allow sports events to return.

Finnish outdoor sports got a green light to start their seasons from 1 June, with what the government described as 'special arrangements', but they will have to make do without crowds — and football at least is unlikely to start on the first day it's possible.

Once Finnish society opens up, Veikkausliiga says the football league can start within three weeks.

However teams have been banned from training together since March. The will need to train before the season gets going, and ahead of a board meeting on Thursday league staff say they are not sure of a June start.

"It you think that in June we can gather in groups of up to 50, then the start of the month at least is not available to play league games," said the league's Managing Director Timo Marjamaa.

"I would suppose that it would allow teams to train and then we can start arranging matchdays."

Finland's coronavirus restrictions currently ban gatherings of 50 or more people, up from 10. The government had previously announced that festivals and mass gatherings of more than 500 people were banned until the end of July, leaving the option to start sporting leagues in front of empty stands before potentially allowing fans in during August.

Minister: Audiences can exceed 50 people

However on Tuesday evening sports minister Hanna Kosonen (centre) told Yle that audiences can be brought into games, breaking the limit of 50 people, so long as the organisers can ensure everyone present is able to maintain the required safety distance and adequate hygiene.

"Events must make sure that there are not tight crowds of people, for instance queuing up for tickets or at sales points," Kosonen said.

"Sporting events must look after the wellbeing and safety of players, for instance by ensuring enough space in changing rooms," she added.

It is a difficult decision, but the Finnish football league Veikkausliiga is unlikely to start on 1 June at least.

Marjamaa said that he'd like to start the league as soon as possible, but there were a lot of open questions particularly about whether crowds would be allowed.

He told Yle that he hoped fans would be allowed to attend matches in a controlled way.

On Monday they raised the limit for gatherings from 10 to 50, but that leaves Marjamaa wondering if crowds can come to matches too.

"Football is an outdoor sport, pitches are really bit and you can stay quite far away from other people there. There's a ban on mass gatherings (of over 500 people) until at least the end of July, but we living with uncertainty about the end of the summer."

He did not warm to the idea of playing Veikkausliiga games without a crowd, saying it would be a 'difficult equation'.

"That would get difficult," said Marjamaa. "Both teams have 18 players and on top of that there are backroom staff, like coaches, and then just with those you nearly reach fifty people. Then there are referees, stadium staff and security personnel as well as TV production crews, then sure it gets quite tight."

The Veikkausliiga board is set to meet on Thursday to consider the government's new rules.

This article was updated on 5 May at 18.00 to include the minister's comments.

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