176 Mexican Football Games Will Be Without Fans
Mexico City. Every professional football game in Mexico this weekend — 176 matches in all divisions — will be played without fans in an effort to slow the spread of swine flu.
The fan-ban stretches from nine top-division matches to 12 first-division A games, 40 in the second division and 115 in the third. It is a giant step from just last weekend when only three first-division games were played behind closed doors.
To give fans something to watch, at least six top division matches — normally seen only on pay-for-view TV — will be available on free channels.
The fear of swine flu is altering the face of Mexico with almost everyone wearing masks, families hunkered down at home and many restaurants selling only takeaway meals. Emergency measures to reshape football are some of the most visible with suspected deaths from the outbreak in Mexico having reached 160.
Weekend Mexican football matches are local fiestas, more like market squares with food-sellers hawking snacks and fans decked out in colorful team jerseys with cold drinks flowing on the sun-drenched terraces inside the stadiums.
“It’s pretty strange not to go to the stadium with my family, because this is part of our culture to go and support your team,” said Sergio Galindo, a 30-year-old lawyer in the northeastern city of Monterrey and a Rayados season-ticket holder.
Rayados plays at home on Saturday against Mexico City club America in the top league.
“I understand the games are going to be on TV in bars and restaurants,” Galindo said. “Because of the flu scare, we’ll watch at home with a barbecue or something — but really, it’s not the same. I imagine this is going to hit the club hard on the economic front.”
Mexican officials are suggesting clubs will lose about 24 million pesos ($2 million) this weekend in ticket sales — the primary revenue source for all teams. Losses to food vendors, parking attendants and stadium employees are tough to calculate, but these could match the losses in ticket sales.
Concern is also growing in South America. Conmebol, the governing body of South American football, expressed its disquiet on Wednesday with the situation in Mexico. One Mexican club, San Luis, has already qualified for the final 16 of the Copa Libertadores — the Latin American club championship. Chivas Guadalajara is also vying for the last 16.
Conmebol’s president, Nicolas Leoz, has asked Mexico about health guarantees for Mexican clubs playing in South America.