KAA Gent-Maccabi Haifa match to be played without fans: 'Serious problems expected'

KAA Gent will host Israeli side Maccabi Haifa in the Conference League on 21 February. On the advice of the police, Ghent mayor Mathias De Clercq has decided the match should be played behind closed doors, Het Nieuwsblad reports.

"Based on information from the police, serious problems are expected," said Thomas Dierckens, spokespeson for De Clercq. Social media posts by pro-Palestinian activists are circulating, calling for protests at the KAA Gent stadium. They believe that a sports team from Israel should not be welcomed in Ghent.

"If the match is interrupted for more than half an hour, UEFA will hand KAA Gent a 5-0 defeat"

"The KAA Gent Arena does not have an outer perimeter, which makes it difficult to control, and there is a high risk of public disorder in and around the stadium," Dierckens said. "This not only affects the safety of fans and players but also has sporting consequences. If the match is interrupted for more than half an hour, UEFA will hand KAA Gent a 5-0 defeat."

There were also calls for a boycott when Gent played Maccabi Tel Aviv, another Israeli team, in December. The match was played behind closed doors in Serbia.

KAA Gent spokesperson Tom Vandenbulcke confirmed that fans who have already bought tickets for the match will be refunded. "The fact that the match will be played behind closed doors is new information for us," he said. "We will now try to compensate people in the simplest way possible. We will announce how and when this will happen as soon as possible."

In Ghent, protests for a ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas have been going on since the conflict began. A protest march is held every week. Last week, pro-Palestinian activists temporarily disrupted the city's New Year's reception.


#FlandersNewsService | Mayor Mathias De Clercq celebrates KAA Gent's Belgian Cup victory in 2022 © BELGA PHOTO JAMES ARTHUR GEKIERE

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