Coronavirus pandemic

Football: German Bundesliga gearing up

Bayern Munich's players practice during a training session in Munich, southern Germany, on May 5, 2020.
Bayern Munich's players practice during a training session in Munich, southern Germany, on May 5, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

It is set to be first major league to resume play from May 15, authorities could give nod today

BERLIN • German Health Minister Jens Spahn has backed the Bundesliga's plan to resume in over a week, with final approval on the league's restart, some two months after it was halted on March 13 because of the coronavirus pandemic, due today.

In an interview with local radio station Deutschlandfunk yesterday, he said: "The (top flight's) basic concept makes sense and could serve as a model for other professional sports. But we have to see how it goes."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will have a teleconference with the country's 16 state leaders and the recommencement of the Bundesliga will be on the agenda.

A decision is expected to be made in favour of the German Football League (DFL), which is hoping to get the go-ahead to become the first of Europe's "Big Five" leagues to restart their campaign from May 15, sources told Reuters.

While the DFL has no plans to host clubs, staff and vested parties in an isolated, centralised location and play on neutral grounds - a proposal the English Premier League is said to be seriously considering - it has drawn up strict stipulations to minimise the risks of contracting Covid-19:

• Players are to be tested the day before a game with the results coming on match day in order to clear them for action.

• Players are to quarantined for two weeks should a positive test arise.

• Players and staff are to travel to away matches in three team buses for social distancing.

• Players are to enter the pitch separately with no handshakes.

• Players are to stay in hotels in the immediate days leading up to games, with no visitors allowed. Food and drink can only be delivered to rooms by chosen club staff.

• Multiple dressing rooms are to be used. Players must shower at separate times. The DFL has, however, decided against placing entire teams under quarantine in case of positive tests, despite earlier reports.

It has instead chosen to defer to local health authorities, who will decide if further action needs to be taken on top of the stipulated two-week quarantine period.

Mass Covid-19 testing, which started last week and is continuing this week, will also be done regularly for the rest of the term for all 36 clubs in both divisions.

Hurdles are, however, expected in spite of the precautions being taken. The DFL continues to face criticism over testing kits being reserved for players and club staff.

Germany has not suffered as badly as Britain, France, Italy and Spain - it had just under 7,000 deaths as of yesterday, about four times fewer than its neighbours. But questions have arisen whether the Bundesliga is taking up public health resources at a time when front-line workers need it more.

The number of positive Covid-19 diagnoses - 10 out of 1,724 players and staff at its 36 first and second division clubs, according to Monday's report - while small, remains an issue and fears were exacerbated yesterday after second-tier Erzgebirge Aue chose to place their entire squad in home isolation after a staff member caught the disease.

There is also concern not all the players are adhering to the DFL's strict guidelines.

Top-tier outfit Hertha Berlin suspended Salomon Kalou on Monday night after the Ivory Coast international posted a video of himself shaking hands with teammates at training, flouting safe distancing measures.

The former Chelsea forward has since apologised for "giving the impression I'm not taking the coronavirus seriously" and Mr Spahn, who is the second Cabinet minister after Interior Minister Horst Seehofer to throw his support behind the restart, has welcomed the "important" sanctions.

But while teething problems will inevitably arise given the disruption caused, Mr Spahn feels the Bundesliga will be able to work through them - as long as the rules are maintained. He said: "The clubs must be able to guarantee that their players, regardless of how young or old they are, follow the rules."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 06, 2020, with the headline 'Bundesliga gearing up'. Print Edition | Subscribe