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Postcards from the edge: Snapshots of European football’s return

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In the shadows of Germany’s Bundesliga, football is gradually restarting in countries across Europe, in almost all cases behind closed doors, with the exception of Hungary where supporters have been allowed to return.

From plastic fans in Poland, to virtual fans in Denmark, drive-in spectators in the Czech Republic and a title coronation in Serbia, AFP takes a look at a weekend of football in times of the coronavirus.

Fans return in Hungary

Forgotten sounds resonated in grounds across Hungary this weekend as songs, the beating of drums and the sense of excitement which spreads throughout the crowd when the ball nears the goal all returned for the first time since March.

After two months without spectators, sports venues reopened their doors to the public this weekend in Hungary, the first country to welcome supporters back to the stands, on the condition that every other row is left empty and only one in four seats is occupied.

“We will respect the rules because there could be games behind closed doors again if we mess up,” said Richard Kovacs, 36, one of the 2,255 fans at Diosgyor’s match against Mezokovesd.

“All that worries us is knowing if we’re going to win or lose, not the epidemic,” said Gabor Lengyel, 41, suggesting that football, and by extension life for some, is approaching a return to normal.

Poland home to plastic supporters

A man in a protective suit keeps watch before the game between Lech Poznan and Legia Warsaw. PHOTO: AFP / JANEK SKARZYNSKI

Poland will follow Hungary’s lead with fans able to attend matches from June 19, although stadiums will be limited to a quarter of capacity.

In the meantime, the league restarted on Friday behind closed doors with noisy, hardcore Polish fans forced to adapt. Supporters of Pogon Szczecin arranged a guard of honour, holding aloft flares every 10 metres on the road leading to the stadium.

Lechia Gdansk relied on some private support on Sunday against Arka Gdynia, with photos of some 200 fans printed onto plastic backgrounds and placed in the stands.

The photos cost 75 zlotys (17 euros, $19) and will eventually be returned to fans taking part in the initiative once signed by their favourite player.

Czech drive-in cinemas

The second weekend of the Czech league since the season’s resumption saw defending champions and leaders Slavia Plague thrash Jablonec 5-0 at an empty Eden Arena on Saturday.

Sparta Prague fans were able to watch the midweek game against Viktoria Plzen at a drive-in cinema. PHOTO: AFP / Michal Cizek

However, it wasn’t totally deserted as the club placed 1,000 plastic photos of players in the stands while giving fans the chance to do likewise for roughly 500 koruna (19 euros, $20), half of which will go to Slavia’s youth teams. Around 500 ‘fans’ made it for kick-off.

To liven up the eerie atmosphere, Sparta Prague and Viktoria Plzen are pumping out team songs during their games. For Wednesday’s meeting between the two they set up drive-in cinemas in both Prague and Plzen.

“We weren’t able to go to the stadium because of the situation. I saw about this opportunity on social media so my friend and I bought tickets and came. It’s very different, we’re not really screaming and we miss the stadium, it’s impossible to replace,” Sparta fan Petr Svoboda, who watched the 2-1 loss to Plzen, told AFP.

Stankovic’s Red Star champions in Serbia

Red Star Belgrade players celebrate their third Serbian league title in a row. PHOTO: AFP / Andrej ISAKOVIC

Despite their reputation and the clinching of a title — the first in Europe since football’s return — typically boisterous Serbian supporters remained calm as the league resumed Friday behind closed doors.

Rad Belgrade hosted city rivals Red Star in the biggest match, where a 5-0 victory for the visitors secured them a 31st league title.

Anyone expecting a sea of supporters flocking to the streets to celebrate was disappointed. Only a hundred or so hardcore fans gathered outside Red Star’s ground to toast the newly-crowned champions while mobbing the club’s coach, former Inter Milan midfielder Dejan Stankovic, outside the Marakana.

Virtual supporters in Denmark

Aarhus set up a series of Zoom calls to create a unique viewing experience for the club’s fans. PHOTO: Ritzau Scanpix/AFP / Henning Bagger

After a near three-month hiatus, the Danish league returned Thursday as AGF took on Randers in Aarhus in a 1-1 draw behind closed doors.

On the eve of the match the Aarhus club had invited eager fans to stick banners, flags and other cardboard cut-outs in the stands, far from the usual ambiance expected for a clash between two Jutland rivals.

Aarhus supporter Liva Hansen, 28, followed the match on TV and via popular videoconferencing platform Zoom along with a group of friends.

All five were part of a virtual audience of 30,000 people, whose images were beamed onto giant screens around the pitch.

“No doubt, that helped,” Aarhus coach David Nielsen told Danish tabloid Ekstra Bladet. “It created a little alternative atmosphere, specific to 2020.”

“It’s a good solution but obviously I would have preferred to be in the stands,” said Hansen. “It was nice to be able to see the other fans and their reactions, during the good moments but also during the less good!”

Reporting and photos: AFP

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Coco Bodu Hithi partners with Anastasia Medvedeva for resin art

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Coco Bodu Hithi has announced a partnership with renowned artist Anastasia Medvedeva, who will host a three-month residency starting in August 2024. Anastasia, celebrated for her expertise in resin art, will be the first resin artist to take up residence at Coco Bodu Hithi.

Anastasia’s unique artistic expression using epoxy resin as the preliminary medium will offer guests a unique opportunity to engage in an unforgettable journey of creativity and learning. From 02nd August to 30th October 2024, guests can explore their artistic potential under her expert guidance.

Anastasia brings a wealth of experience to Coco Bodu Hithi. She is a professional artist with a passion for teaching and creating engaging art experiences. With a proven track record in managing art classrooms and collaborating with luxury resorts, Anastasia has successfully conducted art masterclasses worldwide. Her achievements include selling 70 art pieces to clients in 35 countries, including Canada, the UK, and the USA. Notably, she has also taught a resin art masterclass to a world-famous Olympic champion.

During her residency at Coco Bodu Hithi, Anastasia will share invaluable insights and techniques to enhance art skills, helping participants create stunning artwork. Her masterclass offerings include individual or group sessions covering Resin Art, Fluid Art, Candle Making and more. Additionally, there will be display of her resin art and craft souvenirs on the island.

Coco Bodu Hithi invites all guests to discover their artistic abilities and express themselves through these engaging and enjoyable art sessions.

For more information and to book your stay, please visit Coco Bodu Hithi’s website at www.cococollection.com/bodu-hithi or email us at reservations@cococollection.com.

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International PADI Women’s Dive Day celebrations with Manta Rays at The Nautilus Maldives

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Celebrate International PADI Women’s Dive Day on July 20th at The Nautilus Maldives, an ultra-luxury island resort in the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of Baa Atoll. This special day invites female divers to embark on a free-spirited underwater journey, creating unforgettable memories beneath the waves.

Explore the island’s stunning house reef at the lagoon’s edge, or dive into the world-renowned Hanifaru Bay, where you can swim among whale sharks and the captivating manta rays. Hanifaru Bay, one of the largest manta-feeding hotspots in the world, offers a unique opportunity to witness these majestic creatures perform their mesmerising, timeless dance during manta season.

On this special day, The Nautilus Maldives is offering a 50% discount on Double Tank Dives for certified female divers, with prices starting at AED 1726++ and 50% of scuba diving throughout the day starting at AED 1286++. Additionally, female guests can enjoy complimentary Try Dive sessions in the resort’s Naiboli Pool throughout the day.

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Portuguese footballer Candido Costa to host football camp at Fushifaru Maldives

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Fushifaru Maldives has announced that the renowned Portuguese football player and influential personality, Candido Costa, will be visiting the resort to host an exclusive football camp. This exciting event will take place from 17th to 24th July 2024, providing guests and aspiring football players a unique opportunity to train with one of the sport’s most esteemed figures.

His influence extends beyond the pitch, as he currently serves as the head of PR relations for the Portugal team during the Euro 2024, further cementing his status as a key figure in the sport. The 43-year-old former football player, born in São João da Madeira, brings with him the spirit of competition and football as he aims to get everyone playing in this dream destination, surrounded by paradisiacal beaches, crystal-clear seas and genuine Maldivian hospitality.

Who said that a paradisiacal landscape is not suitable for a football match? Cândido Costa, former footballer and current commentator on Channel 11, will prove otherwise, on a visit to Fushifaru, awarded multiple times as “The Best Boutique Resort in the Maldives”. The former football player will host a Football Camp for hotel guests and a Team Building class for the resort’s staff.

There is nothing better than enjoying the sun, beach and crystal clear waters, on a peaceful holiday and still being able to exercise your body, playing sports, in a relaxed atmosphere. It is with this purpose that Cândido Costa intends to bring together the resorts customers and it’s staff for fun and well-spent moments, where well-being is always present.

Fushifaru Maldives invites all guests and football aficionados to join this once-in-a-lifetime event. For more information and to secure your spot at the football camp, please visit the resort’s website or contact the reservations team at: reservations@fushifaru.com.

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