JEDDAH: Saudi football fans have expressed dismay at a nationwide ban on public attendance at sports events, including the Prince Mohammed bin Salman Cup, over coronavirus fears.
All matches, along with other sports competitions, will be played behind closed doors following the Saudi Ministry of Sport’s decision.
After the ministry directive, local clubs issued a memo to fans not to attend any sporting events starting March 7.
Rajallah Al-Sulami, deputy minister of sports for media affairs, said on Twitter that the decision is aimed at ensuring “responsible behavior.”
“The decision to suspend mass attendance at sports competitions is consistent with the precautionary measures taken by the Saudi government from the first moment of the virus’ spread,” he said.
Fahad Al-Zahrani, sports analyst and former Al-Ahli football club manager, said: “It’s hard to imagine stadiums without fans. But, obviously, they’re doing it now in Saudi Arabia and it’s something we’re probably going to face anyway.”
He added: “We have a passion for football in Saudi Arabia, and it is breathtaking for all, but when people’s lives are at stake, we have to listen to the authorities.”
The decision brought a mixed reaction from football supporters and sports personalities.
Football fan Ahmed Al-Shimmari said: “We have to accept the decisions that come from above, knowing that we have a serious problem.”
Another fan, Saad Al-Shehri, said: “Football is about its fans, its enthusiasm and passion. I don’t think it is going to be the same when you play behind closed doors. Football without fans is boring.”
Cancellations would leave local clubs facing losses of million of riyals.
Fahad Al-Bugami, an economic analyst and editor in chief of Almustahlik (consumer) online newspaper, said the ban will hit companies working in the sports sector.
Stadiums in the Kingdom can accommodate up to 40,000 fans, who spend up to twice the value of their tickets on food, drinks and souvenirs. “Fans’ attendance is a major economic factor for stadiums,” he added.