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New relaxations four days early, thanks to the Red Devils

Football fan Vincent Van Quickenborne made it happen. © Open VLD

Fans of Belgium’s Red Devils gathering on their favourite terrace on 27 June to watch the team take part in its second-round match will be glad that the rules will be relaxed by then.

And they have one man to thank: justice minister and fervent football fan Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open VLD). Had it not been for his lobbying in yesterday’s Consultative Committee, the rules would not have changed until 1 July, as originally planned.

Belgium play their last match in the groups round on Monday against Finland, and there is little doubt the Red Devils will go through to the next round, technically the eighth-finals. In that round, incidentally, players start to earn the premiums allocated by UEFA for the most successful teams. For playing in the eighth-final, Belgium’s players will receive €90,000 each.

But the original timing for the new relaxations was originally 1 July, which could have led to rioting. Under the rules as they now stand – and would still have stood on 27 June – bars have to close at 23.30. The scheduled match against an opponent yet to be determined is set to kick off in Seville at 21.00.

If the match is over within the normal 90 minutes of play, no problem. If it is extended, however, into extra time, then the match would still be under way at closing time, with landlords forced to evacuate before the final whistle.

Not only will football fans be relieved the rules will have changed by then, and closing time extended to 01.00 – so will bar owners with plate glass windows.

Van Quickenborne, it is known, has the ear of prime minister and party colleague Alexander De Croo, since the latter’s time as party president. But his proposal to bring forward relaxations must have received the approval of others on the committee.

One figure stood out: health minister Frank Vandenbroucke (Vooruit), who continues to maintain a hard line on relaxations, even now that he no longer has the full backing of the PM.

He was ready to allow an advanced change for closing times, but he issued a plea for all other measures to be kept for 1 July as previously announced. It was not to be.