Bundesliga re-start: Debate rages around stadiums and social distancing

The Bundesliga is planning a re-start to the season. Now, it is up to the politicians in Germany to come up with the starting signal. The decision for the re-start is up to Chancellor Angela Merkel and the German governors who will consult together on 30 April. Merkel doesn’t expect further easing measures at that meeting but, probably, on May 6.

The agreement for media licences is settled so that the liquidity of the clubs is secured if they finish the season. In total, 300 million euro for media licensing was at stake.

While almost all partners such as Sky, ARD, ZDF and DAZN will pay the licence fee in May, Eurosport is going to pass. The 36 clubs of the first and second Bundesliga divisions rely on the installments of the broadcasters because there won’t be any ticket revenues this season. The DFL will also support the third division plus the Women’s League with 7.5 million euro.

Photo by Boris Streubel/Bundesliga/DFL via Getty Images

Former Bundesliga manager Willi Lemke has suggested presenting live transmissions of Bundesliga matches free of charge. This would prevent fans watching the games in the packed living rooms of Sky subscribers or flocking together in front of stadiums where they may get infected.

The Deutsche Fußball Liga (DFL) presented a strategic concept that outlines on 41 pages how matches without any audiences may take place. The key points are intense isolation measures, detailed hygiene regulations as well as continuous testing so that there won’t be any infected players at the matches on the field.

That means when the teams are travelling to training, they need to be transported in several buses. The number of individuals in the stadium will be limited up to 300 people. Besides social distancing, it is also suggested to wear medical masks.

Furthermore, both teams need to arrive at different times at the stadium so that their paths won’t cross. Social distancing comes first no matter if they enter the changing room, the player’s tunnel or sit on the sub’s bench. The teams cannot take their positions nor shake hands before their kick-off.

Meanwhile, during the matches it should get down to the nitty-gritty: professional soccer with duels, tackles, sweating and headers without a mask. This manual has been compiled by a task force led by Tim Meyer, chair of the DFL’s Medical Committee.

The dining halls of the team hotels need to be so large that the players can be placed with a distance of two metres to each other. In the training centres and stadiums there will be sanitiser dispensers at every turn.

The temperature of players will be taken before any training and any game in order to detect possible symptoms of disease. The DFL will do everything humanly possible that no infected players will participate in the matches, as Dr. Werner Krutsch, member of the task force, pointed out.

The testing of the players is the most crucial issue in many ways. The DFL will need 20,000 masks until the end of the season which comes down to 0.4 percent of the nationwide capacity in Germany.

On the other hand, there are many people in key professions who don’t have any access to masks. “We checked with the respective organisations such as the ALM and received the information that they still have massive capacities,”, stated Krutsch. “In case there will be any shortage, of course, soccer will step back.”

Bavarian governor Markus Söder only agrees with a re-start if all Bundesliga clubs can meet the requirements. This also has to be possible for smaller clubs. DFL’s strategic paper was evaluated by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), which provided a positive feedback.

According to Lars Schade, Vice President RKI, the suggestions seem to be reasonable. But it is not up to the institute to comment on it. Meanwhile, the Federal Ministry of Labour filed a working paper that suggests the players should wear medical filter masks in the field.

But professional footballers may have trouble breathing if they are wearing this kind of mask for 90 minutes and they even may contaminate their face when pulling the mask during the match. Due to the higher respiratory volume, the masks will be soaked sooner so that they need to be replaced every 15 minutes – and that would also disrupt the flow of play.

Another suggestion in terms of protection of labour is to quarantine all of the players, trainers, advisors as well as medical staff who are directly in touch with the players, for example in a hotel, where they can be isolated. This solution is prefered by 90 per cent of the interviewed persons who participated in a recent Sportschau survey.

The DFL’s task is to communicate to the decision makers that the 36 clubs are ready for a re-start

Meanwhile, the DFL suggests in its strategic paper that in case a player is infected it would not be required to quarantine the entire team for two weeks. “We developed a concept with maximum security,” said Hans-Joachim Watzke, managing director of Borussia Dortmund. “If our concept is rejected, it won’t change in eight weeks either.” He warns that several clubs will go bankrupt if there is no Bundesliga kick-off soon.

The current plan is that the remaining nine match days in the first and second divisions will take place without audiences. The aim is to end the season by June 30 but it is also an option to continue with the matches in July because there is no overlap with European competitions such as UEFA’s Champions League or Europa League.

If there is a date for the re-start, the real training of the teams can begin. According to the head of the task force, a minimum time of about two weeks for training is required in order to prevent injuries.

“It is not up to us to set the re-start date,” concluded DFL’s manager Christian Seifert. The DFL’s task is to communicate to the decision-makers that the 36 clubs are ready for a re-start. If May 9 is required, that will be the appointed day. “It would be presumptuous if we set a date,” he said.

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