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The term "behind closed doors" is used in several sports, primarily association football, to describe matches played where spectators are not allowed in the stadium to watch. The reasons for this may include punishment for a team found guilty of a certain act in the past, stadium safety issues, or to prevent potentially dangerous clashes between rival supporters. It is predicated by articles 7, 12 and 24 of FIFA's disciplinary code.
Crowdless games are a rare although not unheard-of occurrence in North American sports. When they do occur, it is usually the result of events beyond the control of the teams or fans, such as weather-related concerns or wider civil disturbances unrelated to the game.
The French league has a tough line on misconduct. Each smoke grenade sent to the pitch results in a fine, which can then result in playing behind closed doors. If the crowd isn't managed, the club may also be punished. Hence, almost every season, a handful of matches are played behind closed doors.
In Brazil, the practice of games without public access is known as "closed gates" (in Portuguese, "portões fechados"), even referred as such in the Brazilian Football Confederation's rulebook. Once it was applied to a whole tournament: two rounds of the Campeonato Catarinense second division in 2014 were behind closed doors because the participant clubs did not deliver the security checks for their stadia. Sanitary reasons dictated the restriction in 2009, where two games of the Série D were played behind closed doors due to the H1N1 flu pandemic.
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"Behind closed doors" or "crowdless" matches in the major North American sports leagues are exceedingly rare. Local law enforcement, private security contractors working for either the team or a league, and national agencies such as the United States Department of Homeland Security take large roles in preventing situations of fan violence before they can occur by restricting access to known troublesome fans either at the gate or even at the stage of selling tickets (such as "do not sell" lists), along with heavy restrictions on bringing in items and screening with metal detectors and pat-down searches where bringing in a weapon or explosive device can result in immediate arrest and lifetime ejection from a venue, and other examples such as the "clear bag" policy, which only allows spectators to bring in bags that can be easily seen through.
Teams also have incentive to prevent fan violence due to forfeit rules which come with penalties to their records and playoff positioning, and league sanctions such as fines and the stripping of draft picks due to neglecting to create a safe environment for players, which in turn can affect teams for years beyond a violent event. Also sporting events in North America are considered to be more of a family-friendly and uniting affair, as sports fans tend to respect each other as fans of a common sport. In other countries around the world, sports matches are sometimes proxies for bitter and long-standing ethnic, political, and religious divisions; this is less so in the United States, where the broad variety of sports options manifests as different ethnic groups preferring different sports, reducing the chance at intercultural rivalry within a single sport.
Furthermore, the much larger geographical footprint of the North American sports leagues mean that even fierce rivals are often based hundreds or even thousands of miles apart. For example, while the Dallas Cowboys are considered to be the bitter rivals of every other team in the NFC East, their nearest division is based almost 1,100 miles (1,800 km) from the Dallas metropolitan area by air, and over 1,300 miles (2,100 km) from Dallas by road. Fans elsewhere in the world can easily travel to most if not all of their league's stadiums by road or by train, and bus and rail carriers have evolved there to cater to the expected demand. In contrast, fans of the North American sports leagues would need to travel by air if they wanted to attend most of their team's road games. Even if many thousands of fans suddenly had the means and inclination to do that on a regular basis, the North American commercial aviation industry at present would not have sufficient spare capacity to accommodate them – even events such as the Super Bowl which draw the most interest from fans willing to travel cause a major logistical challenge for airlines and airport authorities. As a result, unlike in most smaller and more densely populated countries, teams are typically not required to (and typically do not) set aside whole sections of their stadiums for opposing fans. The lack of dedicated sections for opposing fans creates even further disincentive for them to travel to away games.
All of these reduce the chances of hooliganism, eliminate the need to segregate fans from opposing teams, and ultimately negate the threat of closed door game due as a consequence of fan violence. In rare circumstances where a serious incident has occurred (such the 2004 Pacers–Pistons brawl in the NBA), sports authorities have leaned toward identifying and excluding the specific people involved as opposed to indiscriminately punishing the wider, law-abiding fan base. In contrast to the rest of the world where "behind closed doors" games are given out as penalties for previous violations or to prevent potential violence (stadium safety issues, checkered history of rival supporters), such occurrences in North America have happened for entirely different reasons.
After rioting by fans in a semifinal at Anderlecht in Belgium the previous April, Aston Villa were forced to begin their defence of the European Cup at an empty Villa Park in September 1982, with the match kicking off at 2:30 pm on a Wednesday afternoon.
As a result of a policeman being killed during rioting at a Serie A match between Catania and Palermo on 2 February, the Italian Football Federation suspended all Italian matches indefinitely. Subsequently, matches resumed but many clubs were ordered to play their games behind closed doors until their stadiums met with updated security regulations.
FC Dinamo Bucureşti had to play two home games in European competitions behind closed doors after their match against FC Slovan Liberec on 25 August 2009 was abandoned in the 88th minute due to a pitch invasion by Dinamo fans.
During the penultimate round of league games all teams had to play with closed doors due to the H1N1 swine flu outbreak in infected cities. Several games taking place in areas which were badly affected by the outbreak were also played behind closed doors the following week. Games behind closed doors have been played regularly as a penalty for bad behavior of fans in Mexico, most recently an Apertura 2015 game in which Atlas hosted Querétaro at Estadio Jalisco because of last season quarterfinal game in which Atlas fans invaded the pitch against their hated rivals Guadalajara.
In rugby union, the 2010–11 Heineken Cup pool stage match between Edinburgh and Castres at Murrayfield was played behind closed doors on 20 December 2010. The match was originally scheduled for 19 December, but was postponed due to heavy snow in Edinburgh that covered the pitch and created major access issues for potential spectators. The competition organiser, European Rugby Cup, decided to hold the rescheduled match behind closed doors to remove any possible danger to spectators attempting to travel to the match.
Starting with the 2011–12 season, the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) instituted a modified version of this rule. The penalty for a team sanctioned for crowd violence is now a ban on both ticket sales to, and attendance by, males over age 12 (as spectators). Women, and children under age 12 of either sex, are admitted free. The first game under the new rule took place on 20 September 2011, when Fenerbahçe hosted Manisaspor at Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium in Istanbul. Over 41,000 women and children attended the match (plus a small number of men who had sneaked into the stadium). The experiment was so successful that the TFF planned to require that teams allocate an unspecified number of free tickets for women and children at all future club matches. Shortly thereafter, the TFF stated that it would reimburse clubs for free tickets given to women and children for regular league games (i.e., games not subject to crowd restrictions), and increased the upper age limit for "children" for the purposes of free ticketing to 15.
In the original match, held at the same venue on 21 December 2011, Ajax held a 1–0 lead when a fan ran onto the pitch and launched a karate kick from behind against AZ goalkeeper Esteban Alvarado, who responded by attacking the fan before police and security arrived. When Alvarado was sent off for retaliating against his attacker, AZ left the pitch, and the match was abandoned. The KNVB rescinded the red card and ordered the match replayed in its entirety.
After Ajax also apologised to their opponents, they were fined €10,000 for failing to provide adequate security to prevent the fan, who was serving a three-year stadium ban, from entering the arena. Ajax accepted the penalties, and announced that it had extended the fan's stadium ban by 30 years and banned him for life from the club and its season ticket list.
Surrounding violence in Catalonia due to the 2017 Catalan independence referendum, the match between FC Barcelona and UD Las Palmas in the 2017–18 La Liga was played behind closed doors. Barcelona first requested the LFP to postpone their match which was to be played on the same day as the referendum. This request was declined by the LFP, saying that, if Barcelona refused to play the match, their six points would be deducted. To protect the fans, as well as in protest to LFP's decision, Barcelona played the match behind closed doors, a first at their stadium, Camp Nou. The match ended 3–0 in favor of Barcelona.
As part of the sanctions handed to the Philippine men's basketball team in the aftermath of their involvement in their brawl against Australia during their home game on July 2, 2018, the Philippine national team is obliged to play their next home match in the second round of the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup Asian qualifiers behind closed doors with the succeeding two home games being placed under probation. The lone game that was played behind closed doors was their home game against Qatar on September 17, 2018 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
On 28 April 2015, Major League Baseball announced a game between the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles to be played at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore that evening would instead start at 2:06 p.m. EDT, with no fans being admitted. The unprecedented decision came due to security concerns related to civil unrest in the city, along with a 10 p.m. EDT curfew which would have required suspension of the game had it been played at its original time. The game was to have been the last game of a three-game series, but the first two had already been postponed due to the unrest. The game was televised in the Baltimore and Chicago markets, and was also offered as a "free game of the day" on MLB's streaming service nationwide. Unofficially, some fans were able to watch the game through obstructed gates in left-center field, along with guests at the nearby Hilton Baltimore which overlooks the playing field. This was the first time a North American major league sports event would be held in an empty sports venue; previously in minor league baseball, a 2008 Iowa Cubs game was played without public admittance due to flooding in Des Moines, Iowa, while a 2002 Charleston RiverDogs game in Charleston, South Carolina, held a purposeful gimmick "Nobody Night" where no one was admitted to the park until the attendance figure was made official after the fifth inning; although approximately 1,800 spectators were in attendance, they were restrained to areas around the stadium (concession stands, et al.) until the end of the fifth inning when the attendance count was made.
While large galleries consisting of thousands of fans are standard for top-level professional golf events in the United States, on 30 June 2012, the third round of the 2012 AT&T National at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland was played without fans being admitted due to trees being downed and other storm damage caused by a derecho the night before. Additionally, the start of the third round was delayed to the early afternoon, instead of a morning start that is normal for a round of a golf tournament utilizing a stroke play format, in order to allow for the continuation of course clean-up efforts. This is the first of two recorded instances of any part of a PGA Tour event being played without a gallery present.
In the 2016 Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course in the La Jolla community of San Diego, California, after inclement weather disrupted play on Sunday and several trees were ripped apart on the golf course, fans were barred from the premises for the Monday conclusion of the final round of the tournament due to safety issues. The 2018 edition of the same tournament also was finished behind closed doors on Monday. The sudden death playoff had reached five holes without a winner, and darkness made it impossible to complete the tournament. The event concluded Monday morning at 8:18 a.m. behind closed doors.
The Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League have played in two such "behind closed doors" games, both caused by severe winter storms when the opposing team and game officials had already arrived in the city. On 22 January 2016, the Checkers played against the Chicago Wolves behind closed doors because of a severe winter storm, and the same again on 17 January 2018, the Checkers played against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers behind closed doors as a result of inclement weather (ice and snow). Both games were played at Bojangles' Coliseum.
In 1985, a measles outbreak on campus led Boston University to hold home ice hockey games without spectators for a week, in order to control the disease's spread. Basketball games were also affected, and other large public events on campus were also temporarily banned.
Due to the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic, these events were not postponed or cancelled but were held behind closed doors as broadcast only events: