BUDAPEST: When Hungarian and European football leaders invited Hungarian ambulance workers to the continent’s first major international match open to fans since the Covid-19 pandemic began, 500 paramedics jumped at the chance to attend tonight’s Super Cup.
Champions League winners Bayern Munich of Germany and Europa League champions Sevilla of Spain meet at Budapest’s Puskas Arena in a game that European football’s governing body Uefa considers a safety test of games with spectators.
The match comes amid a growing second wave of Covid-19, with Hungarian cases at record highs, which prompted warnings of the possible consequences of mass gatherings from leaders in other countries, health experts, opposition politicians and citizens.
But even as both clubs will send far fewer fans to the game than the 3,000 each allotted to them, Uefa has proceeded with the plans and Hungary concurs, saying strict rules would prevent infections.
The paramedics are still going, too.
“The tickets were snapped up within 21 hours,” the National Ambulance Service (OMSZ) boasted on its Facebook page on Sept. 9. “More than 500 ambulance workers will partake in the match... Have fun safely and have a good game!”
Most people were far less thrilled, including paramedics.
“The gesture as such would be nice,” Zsuzsanna Pongracz, a 41 year-old ambulance worker currently on maternity leave, told Reuters. “But is it really a good idea to send into that crowd health workers usually servicing the front lines?”
“If they get infected, who will man the ambulance vehicles? Instead of gestures, or tickets, the country’s leaders should work out rewarding career opportunities for ambulance workers,” she said in reference to chronically overworked and underpaid colleagues.
The OMSZ did not address repeated calls for comment.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, an avid football fan who has pledged billions of euros to stadium building, has yet to see a big international competitive game in the newly completed Puskas Stadium in Budapest.
Although local authorities could have ordered the match to be held behind closed doors, they have not done so and spokesmen for Orban and the government declined to explain why.