Over 2,000 football fans gathered to celebrate the championship title of Club Brugges during an organised event on Sunday, but failed to respect most coronavirus measures.
At the insistence of the football club, and to prevent fans from organising spontaneous and unregulated parties everywhere, the city of Bruges and the club agreed that a player tribute could be held on the north side of the stadium after the match.
However, the event received a lot of criticism, mainly because images show that most of them did not wear a face mask, and that the social distance was not respected at all.
"If supporters are going to the stadium anyway, it is better to let it happen in an organised way than to turn it into another La Boum," Bruges mayor Dirk De Fauw said, referring to the fake festivals in Brussels Bois de la Cambre.
"Several groups of supporters let it be known that they would be coming to the stadium anyway. So we took some measures," he told Het Nieuwsblad. "This was not a pre-planned event, but it grew spontaneously. And with strong police force, you achieve nothing, except a cat-and-mouse game in the streets."
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"There is always criticism, we know that," Club Bruges team captain Ruud Vormer told Sporza. "People need an outlet. They do it this way, and I understand that completely."
"People also want to enjoy themselves, and you do not become champion that often: we wanted to celebrate with everyone," he added. "So I understand why people came here."
The chief of the Bruges police, Dirk Van Nuffel, said on Flemish radio that he understands that the fans threw a party after their club became champion.
Banning that party was "not an option," he said. "You cannot prevent a gathering of 2,000 people. If we had done that by going on the offensive or with horses, the people would have come even closer together."
Agreements had been made beforehand, but the supporters of Club Brugge did not stick to the coronavirus measures during their party, something which Van Nuffel said he understands.
"Football is in our genes. Celebrating champions is part of it. Supporters should get the chance to celebrate after a year of restraint," he said. "I am counting on the measures becoming more flexible and we are also relaxing our measures. The risk of infection has been reduced."
While Van Nuffel "might have preferred things to be different, you cannot stop something like that from happening."
However, 22 arrests were made, 30 official reports were drawn up for pyrotechnical material and one official report for assault, in addition to a series of administrative fines, according to him.
"The agreement was that we would not use force. Here in Bruges, we do not have a tradition of acting violently," Van Nuffel said. "By the way, how would people have reacted if we had gone on the offensive? Now the damage was not too bad. And again: we still have weeks of work to process all the reports."
"If people have contracted Covid-19, they will have two weeks to think about it while they are ill," he said. "It is indeed to be hoped that they, in turn, do not infect other people."