Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6D unanimously approved a resolution opposing D.C. United’s efforts to open Audi Field for live soccer before fans, saying doing so would endanger thousands of Old Southwest residents living adjacent to the stadium.
Commissioner Fredrica Kramer (6D05) moved to introduce the resolution, which followed a presentation from Chris Deubert, D.C. United’s General Counsel, and James Clark, the team’s Vice President of Experience & Development. While Major League Soccer (MLS) is currently hosting a 24-team tournament in Bay Lake, Florida, MLS intends for clubs to begin hosting home stadium matches in mid-August, Deubert said. As part of the plan, Audi Field in Buzzard Point would open at 25 percent capacity — permitting around 5,000 fans.
As part of the plan, every third row would seat fans, and clusters of seats would be spaced-out from other clusters, Clark said. Staff in each section would enforce compliance with designated seats. A clear bag policy would discourage contact between spectators and staff at entrances and exits, and fans would be designed a gate and time to enter the stadium. Other plans to mitigate health risks include mobile tickets, cashless concessions and sanitation stations throughout the stadium.
Despite Commissioner Edward Daniels (6D07) calling the plan “well-thought-out,” all seven commissioners criticized the proposal for its probability of exposing residents to COVID-19. Multiple commissioners said the proposal to welcome 5,000 fans far exceeds limitations on mass gatherings under the District’s Phase 2 guidelines.
To Commissioner Anna Forgie (6D02), the proposal suggested to her that D.C. United’s “business model should take precedence over the lives of the people who live in our community.” While Deubert rejected Forgie’s statement, Commissioner Rhonda Hamilton said residents of Buzzard Point, who have long raised concerns about water and air contamination as a result of redevelopment, were exposed to toxins during Audi Field’s construction, and risk exposure to COVID-19 if the stadium opens to fans.
The resolution echoes Hamilton’s concern that the plan will jeopardize the health of residents, many of whom already suffer respiratory illness. One community member who said she is “a senior citizen with several health problems” expressed her concern that fans and players will infect residents.
“Whether [fans] [are] going to wear masks or not because it’s not mandatory is more of a risk to my life,” she said. “I had a stay-at-home order, but if I happen to have to go out of here, why y’all having a game with so many people coming back and forth who could test positive?”
Deubert cited financial concerns as a reason for opening Audi Field to fans. In June, MLS commissioner Don Garber said the league is losing $1 billion in revenue due to COVID-19, SBI reported. Chair Gail Fast noted that D.C. United, one of 26 MLS teams, received a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program between $1 million and $2 million.
Deubert said the team employs around a hundred ANC 6D residents. Kramer, whose Single Member District contains the stadium, cited the “good relationship” D.C. United has cultivated with community members. But she said the plan risks increasing COVID-19 exposure and added it is “impossible” for her to imagine its enforcement.
The resolution, which Kramer read during the meeting, notes that fans will be required to sign an affidavit indemnifying D.C. United from any legal action and “agreeing their assumption of risk,” despite the fact that D.C. United officials “[insist] that filling their stadium will not present a public health problem,” she said.
“Management has painted Black Lives Matter on the grass of Audi Field,” Kramer said, reading the resolution. “D.C. United can most positively demonstrate that bold commitment by protecting the lives of thousands of vulnerable residents… whose families are most significantly impacted by COVID-19 by simply withdrawing their proposal to open Audi Field to exhibition games until this pandemic is under control.”
Eva Herscowitz is a journalism student at Northwestern University currently interning with the Hill Rag. She writes for Northwestern’s student newspaper, The Daily Northwestern. You can reach her at [email protected]