The Bundesliga in Germany is set to become Europe’s first major football league to resume playing during the coronavirus crisis, with a restart confirmed for this month, it was announced on Wednesday.
Germany’s government and its federal states have given the green light to start again, with the date for a restart due to be decided this week when the German Football League convenes for an Ordinary Assembly on Thursday. The earliest possible return date is May 15, with a May 22 start date also mooted.
The league has nine matchdays remaining and there is a commitment to finish the season by June 30. Fans will not be allowed into stadiums, with a ban on mass events in Germany until Aug. 31.
“The eyes of Europe and all of the world will be on us,” Germany and Bayern Munich captain Manuel Neuer wrote in an op-ed in German broadsheet FAZ on Wednesday. The goalkeeper highlighted the responsibility on German football’s shoulders and said they acted as role-models for society. Bayern lead the Bundesliga by four points as it stands.
That role has been questioned after Hertha Berlin forward Salomon Kalou live-streamed a video of himself greeting teammates with physical contact and bursting in on a teammate’s coronavirus test. The former Chelsea player was suspended by the club and later apologised.
Fears have also been voiced by some that fans could gather outside stadiums during the Geisterspiele; the games without fans. But several leading Ultra and supporter groups have said they have no plans to do so, despite some rejecting the idea of football without fans.
DFL CEO Christian Seifert, as well as influential club chiefs including Borussia Dortmund‘s Hans-Joachim Watzke and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge at Bayern Munich, have warned that cancelling the league would put around 56,000 jobs in the industry in danger. Following negotiations with the broadcasters, Seifert secured crucial payments of around €280 million from the rights holders as some clubs feared for their survival amid the pandemic. Bundesliga club FC Schalke 04 called the crisis “existence-threatening.”
Lutz Pfannenstiel joins Taylor Twellman to discuss the actions of Hertha Berlin’s Salomon Kalou.
Bundesliga teams resumed training in small groups in early April as the DFL worked on plans to bring back the league with a medical concept for training and match operations required by the government and its federal states.
Players and staff are tested regularly for the coronavirus and in a first wave, 1,724 tests were conducted on all 36 clubs of the upper two tiers late last week. Ten cases of COVID-19 were identified and reported to health authorities. Not all cases were made public after the DFL asked clubs not to report cases individually. Full results from a second round of testing have yet to be released, though on the eve of Wednesday’s decision, second-division club Erzgebirge Aue put their entire squad in home isolation after a member of staff tested positive.
Infected persons must self-isolate, but the DFL’s plan does not require to put squads in isolation. The league has asked clubs to go into the final part of the season with a big squad which can be filled up with reserve or under-19 players.
There have been mixed signals from political decision-makers on what will happen if a player or staff member is tested positive for COVID-19.
“I don’t know how the season can be finished if one team is sidelined,” Anja Stahmann, the chair of the German sports minister conference, told Sport1.
First COVID-19 deaths were reported in Germany on March 9 and the league was suspended on March 13.
“Corona is under control,” Bavaria’s influential minister president Markus Soder said on Tuesday when announcing to lift several restrictions in the German federal state hit hardest by the coronavirus.
According to numbers released by the Robert-Koch-Institut on May 6, Germany had 164,807 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with over 137,000 recovered, and 6,996 deaths.
Elsewhere in Europe, France, Belgium and the Netherlands have cancelled their seasons and Italy, Spain and England are hoping for a possible June return.