Soccer-Spain to allow spectators back to matches

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - La Liga Santander - FC Barcelona v Atletico Madrid - Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain - May 8, 2021 General view before the match REUTERS/Albert Gea/File Photo

MADRID (Reuters) - Spanish soccer clubs were given the green light on Wednesday for fans to return to matches for the final two rounds of fixtures this season in regions with low levels of COVID-19 infections.

Sports minister Jose Manuel Uribes announced that a maximum of 5,000 spectators would be able to attend games in regions with fewer than 50 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, meaning the regions of Valencia and Galicia will be able to welcome supporters back.

"How to pick the spectators will be the clubs' decision: a lottery, a system rewarding those with most seniority," Uribes said. "This is a first step with a view to many more - the key for us was to begin again."

Health minister Carolina Darias added that other teams could be allowed to host supporters if their region's infection rate drops to below 50 per 100,000.

She said only supporters of the home team could attend matches, adding they would be required to wear face masks and would have to take a temperature check before entering the stadium.

They will also be forbidden from eating, drinking or smoking while in the ground.

The ruling does not affect the top three teams in La Liga's title race because leaders Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid are not playing matches this weekend in Valencia or Galicia.

Fourth-placed Sevilla, who have a slim chance of winning the title, will play in front of spectators, however, when they visit Villarreal on Sunday.

Valencia's game at home to Eibar is the only other top-flight match this weekend which fans will attend.

Supporters can attend three La Liga matches in the final weekend of the campaign on May 23 -- Elche v Athletic, Levante v Cadiz and Celta v Betis.

Sunday's matches at Valencia's Mestalla and Villarreal's Estadio Ceramica will be the first games with fans present since the pandemic broke out in Spain over a year ago.

Numbers at games will rise substantially next month, however, when up to 16,000 fans will attend all of Spain's group matches at the rescheduled European Championship plus a last-16 fixture.

(Reporting by Clara-Laeila Laudette, additional reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Ed Osmond)

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