Now is not the time for fans to return to matches, says Spain's health minister

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: General view inside La Cartuja stadium in Seville

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's health minister said she will block the return of supporters to soccer matches after radio station Cadena Ser reported on Wednesday that fans will be able to attend the two Copa del Rey finals in April.

Seville's La Cartuja stadium, which holds 60,000 spectators, will be at 20-25% capacity for last season's rescheduled final between Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao on April 3 and this season's showpiece between Barcelona and Athletic on April 17, Cadena Ser said.

However, only spectators living in Andalusia will be able to buy tickets for the game as travel between Spanish regions is not permitted due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The Spanish soccer federation declined to comment on the report, saying it was holding a meeting with Athletic and Sociedad on Thursday to make arrangements for the final, with the prospect of fans attending to be discussed.

But health minister Carolina Darias said the central government would not permit the return of fans for either game.

"We all want to see fans back at these events but now's not the time," she told a news conference on Wednesday.

"We're talking about over 10,000 people, people must understand it's not possible. This ministry and I will intensely try to find a consensus to ensure this doesn't happen. It is not right, it's not opportune and it's not convenient."

Spectators have been barred from elite Spanish soccer matches since March, 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to Athletic and Sociedad agreeing to postpone last season's final by a year so fans could attend.

The Basque government also criticised the move, saying mass gatherings should not be permitted while the virus remains a threat.

Real Sociedad and Athletic have never met in a Copa del Rey final and the clubs even agreed to surrender potential qualification for this season's Europa League so the match could be played in front of their fans a year later.

La Liga president Javier Tebas said he hoped fans would be able to start attending league games in late April, once the central government had re-assessed the situation following Holy Week.

(Reporting by Richard Martin,; Editing by David Goodman and Ed Osmond)