By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

Union and four other Berlin sporting clubs await Senate's green light for fan concepts

The way out of the COVID-restriction thicket continues to proceed slowly in the Bundesrepublik. Last weekend's rapid-antigen test program at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei nevertheless provided some hope for a way forward. 

At a Thursday press conference, Union communications director Christian Arbeit updated the public on a new pilot program in the country's capital.

As soon as the political will materializes, five of Berlin's six major professional sports clubs have been pre-approved to allow a very small number of fans in.
Bundesliga club 1. FC Union Berlin did not disclose the actual number of fans who took advantage of a free SARS-CoV-2 rapid antigen test offered outside the club's home venue last Saturday. The photographs of professionalized testing stations certainly made all the German media rounds. Photojournalists were rarely able to capture an actual supporter getting tested, however.

In any event, club head-of-communications Christian Arbeit reported that the club was satisfied with the execution of the program during a Thursday presser. The executive noted that his organization wished to take the next step as soon as possible, experimenting with a "low four digit number" of spectators allowed through the turnstiles after receiving rapid tests.

Arbeit also revealed that the Stadion An der Alten Försterei had been selected as one of three capital city venues where a modest pilot project involving fans might proceed once the Berliner Senate gives the green light. The other two sites--the Basketball/Ice Hockey Mercedes-Benz-Arena and the Volleyball/Handball Max-Schmeling-Halle--are both indoor arenas. All three stadia are situated in Berlin's former Eastern quarter.

The announcement concerning some movement in quest to bring a limited number of fans back into the seats, as with everything else these days, came laced with caveats. This week, Germany's already slow vaccine rollout essentially froze over concerns of a low number of blood-clotting issues associated with the Astra Zeneca vaccine.

"It may be the case that there are developments over the next 14 days that render this impossible until further notice," Arbeit conceded, "We've studied this issue so extensively and intensively that we can set up implementation within a week."

Arbeit reiterated that the club had been lobbying for the use of rapid tests since late September, taking extra care to emphasize that the club harbored no bitterness to the Bundesrepublik's governing regime.

"We could be aggravated by how many months it took for there to be a conducive atmosphere in the country to try this out," he noted, "but that's not so important to us. [the extra time] helped us prepare for it. We also always said that we wanted to share our ideas with others."

Arbeit's further comments seemed to suggest that he anticipated getting approval from the city to take the next step sometime in May. It remains possible that something more broadly audacious could emerge in the next three weeks.

The federal announcement approving 20-percent-capacity across the country on September 15th, 2020 did come after a public inclusive summit meeting, but the sheer scope of the authorization shocked many.

When one takes into account that most of Berlin's big professional clubs have been pre-approved for a pilot program, it stands to reason that matters could proceed quite fast.

Basketball's Alba Berlin and Ice Hockey's Berlin Eisbären both play at the Mercedes-Benz-Arena in Friedrichshain. Volleyball's Berlin Recycling Volleys and Handball's Füchse Berlin call the Max-Schmeling-Halle in Prenzlauer Berg home.

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