Police stand by as Sporting fans celebrate at Marquês do Pombal square in Lisbon on May 11. Photo: JOSE SENA GOULAO/LUSA

Sporting title celebrations spark Covid-19 concerns

Specialists are warning that an increase in Covid-19 cases is “practically inevitable” following the huge crowds that gathered in Lisbon on Tuesday (May 11) to celebrate Sporting CP’s first championship title in 19 years.

Thousands of fans gathered outside of Estádio José Alvalade before Sporting’s 1-0 victory over Boavista, which earned them a title that millions of fans across the country had been waiting for since 2002.

But celebrations were quickly marred by violent confrontations between fans and police, which had to fire rubber bullets and use batons to disperse crowds.

A TVI journalist is said to have been hit by one of the rubber bullets in the leg, while several fans had to be treated for injuries throughout the night.

Aside from the confrontations, concerns are growing over the crowds that formed outside of the stadium and throughout the city, with several thousands of fans celebrating together in very close proximity.

One specialist has told Expresso newspaper that a surge in Covid-19 cases is “practically inevitable”, although there is a silver lining.

“The deaths and serious cases will never be what they were a few months ago,” said Miguel Prudêncio, a professor at the University of Lisbon’s Medicine Faculty.
However, all it takes is one undetected positive case to lead to a new outbreak, he pointed out.

The truth is that anyone who follows football should have known that crowds were likely to form if Sporting were to be crowned champions on Tuesday night – even more so than if SL Benfica or FC Porto had won the league.

It’s been nearly two decades since Sporting CP won the title, a remarkable drought for a club which had already won 18 championships and has one of the largest fan bases in the country.

In the Algarve and throughout the country, fans took to the streets to celebrate the title either on foot or by beeping their horns in their cars.

Even more impressive is that pundits did not predict that Sporting would be a real title contender this season, given that the club had a young coach in Rubén Amorim and a mostly young squad of promising but mostly unproven players.

But their performance proved otherwise. In 32 league matches this season, Sporting has won 25, drawn seven and has yet to lose.

The ‘Lions’ have amassed 82 points and could match Benfica’s record of 88 (in 2015-16) if they win their two remaining matches against archrivals Benfica on Saturday and against Marítimo on Wednesday.

The title has provided some much-anticipated relief for a club which just three years ago went through one of the worst moments in its history when a group of fans attacked the club’s training centre in Alcochete – an incident which saw its president at the time Bruno Carvalho going to court for suspicions of having organised the ordeal, and led to the departure of several players as well as coach Jorge Jesus (now back at Benfica).