“What remains decisive for us is what the politicians decide. If it’s 9 May, then we would be ready then. If it’s later, we would be ready on that date,” Christian Seifert of the German Football League (DFL) said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet with state prime ministers April 30, and the approval for the soccer leagues to resume could emerge from that conference. The country’s social-distancing measures remain in place until May 3.
Matches in the top-flight Bundesliga and second-division 2. Bundesliga will be played without fans present. Each team has nine games remaining after play was halted March 13 because of the pandemic, and the goal is to finish the season before June 30, when contracts expire for more than 300 players in the two leagues. Midweek games would be added to the schedule so the season can finish by the end of June.
Clubs have been allowed to train in small groups since April 6.
Under the leadership of Merkel, a scientist by trade, Germany has been aggressive in combating the coronavirus and has tested its residents at a much higher rate than most nations, an estimated 120,000 per day in a nation of 83 million people. This has kept the death rate in the country comparatively low, even if Germany has the fifth-highest number of coronavirus infections in the world behind the United States, Spain, Italy and France.
This week, even with the announcement that Munich’s Oktoberfest would be canceled for the first time since World War II, Germany began taking cautious steps to reopen the country, with smaller shops allowed to begin serving customers again and the announcement that some schools soon will reopen. Plus, the prime ministers of Bavaria and Nordrhein-Westfalen — German states that are home to nine of the top level’s 18 teams — said this week that soccer could return under restricted conditions.
Germany’s ban on mass gatherings remains in place, however, meaning soccer games there could be played in empty stadiums for the foreseeable future (the contests have been dubbed “ghost games”).
“If we can play games, it is to be expected that they will be without fans for some time. Maybe even into the new season or until the end of the year,” Seifert said last month.
Bundesliga officials estimate that a maximum of 322 coaches, team officials, medical personnel, broadcasting employees and security staff members will be needed to stage each game, and all will be regularly tested. As reported by the BBC, a task force created by the DFL, which operates the two top leagues, has recommended that stadiums be divided into three zones — the field, the stands and the outer stadium — with a maximum of 100 people allowed in each section.
The DFL insists that the estimated 20,000 tests needed for soccer games to resume would not be a drain on the nation’s testing capabilities; Germany has 640,000 tests available each week.
“Any assumption that possible continuous testing will cause a shortage of supplies for the general public ignores the facts. Testing capacity has been increased massively in recent weeks,” the DFL executive committee said in a news release Tuesday.
If a player tests positive for the coronavirus, the DFL task force recommended against automatic reporting to the media because “disease verification as well as clear documentation of suspected transmission routes take priority.” The task force also said teams would not have to quarantine as a group if one player tests positive.
“It cannot be the goal to guarantee one hundred percent security for all concerned. Because that might turn out to be impossible,” the task force’s report stated, per DW.
Traditional soccer rituals such as pregame handshakes and team photographs also will be abandoned, and reserves will maintain proper social distancing on the bench when they are not playing.
Resuming the season means the German leagues can collect the fourth and final television-rights payment — more than $300 million — due from its worldwide broadcast partners this season. That would be a needed financial boost for a sizable number of teams, as 13 of the 36 clubs in the country’s top two tiers are on the verge of insolvency, according to an internal DFL report obtained by the BBC.
Other European soccer leagues will be watching Germany to see if a resumption of play is feasible once their countries have a comparable handle on the pandemic. UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, said in early April that leagues could face bans from continental competitions if they fail to complete their seasons, but on Tuesday it softened its tone after the Dutch government effectively ended that country’s season by banning sporting events — even ones without fans — until Sept. 1. After the Dutch government’s announcement, UEFA said that some “special cases” might be exempted from sanctions for not finishing their seasons.
Belgium was the first European nation to announce an end to its soccer season in early April, with league leader Club Brugge crowned champion. More prominent leagues in England, Spain, Italy and France have yet to announce whether they will resume play, though all have expressed a preference for doing so, even if that means playing late into the summer. To allow the completion of the professional leagues, UEFA postponed its European Championship international competition until 2021.