AMSTERDAM: Fans of Dutch soccer team Willem II Tilburg came under fire in the Netherlands for throwing a large party with no regard for social distancing rules to celebrate their team's return to European competition.
Pictures taken by fans showed around 1,000 supporters singing and dancing on a square in Tilburg on Thursday before Willem II's Europa League qualifying match against Scottish side Rangers.
Local mayor Theo Wetering said he issued a permit for the party to avoid surprise gatherings popping up throughout the city, but the fans were supposed to keep a proper distance from each other as the number coronavirus infections in the Netherlands increases.
"By having them watch the game together on a square we would be better able to control them and uphold the rules. It was a deliberate choice," he told public broadcaster Radio 1.
"It's our first European match in 15 years, people want to celebrate that."
Yet critics said the event lacked any kind of control, and fans were seen dancing, cheering and yelling without keeping their distance from each other.
"This is how it looks if you ruin everything for everybody else. A terrible own goal in our fight against the coronavirus," the parliamentary leader of Prime Minister Mark Rutte's VVD party Klaas Dijkhoff tweeted.
The local hospital in Tilburg also expressed its regret about the party.
"There is every reason to be alert and follow the rules. That did not happen here and it is very unfortunate to see that happening so close to our hospital where staff are treating patients who have the virus," the hospital said in a statement.
Critics of the party in Tilburg will not have to fear a repeat, however, as Willem II crashed out of the competition with a 4-0 defeat.
(Reporting by Bart Meijer; Editing by Toby Davis)