BERLIN• The German Bundesliga can restart games from the second half of this month following the two-month stoppage because of the coronavirus pandemic, Chancellor Angela Merkel confirmed yesterday.
The announcement had been widely expected as part of measures to lift the country's lockdown, which started on March 22, in phases.
Germany has reported over 167,000 Covid-19 cases with about 7,000 deaths as of yesterday. Its Covid-19 reproduction rate has been falling for several days, and Mrs Merkel said it was now consistently below 1 - meaning a person with the virus infects fewer than one other on average.
Sources told Reuters her government and federal states had also agreed that the second division would also restart matches.
There are nine rounds left - 10 for Eintracht Frankfurt and Werder Bremen as they have a game in hand - and all remaining games are to be staged behind closed doors.
On the "ghost games", which is how fixtures in empty arenas are referred to in Germany, Mrs Merkel said: "We have talked about sports and recreation and the Bundesliga, which will be able to resume operation soon.
"We can safely state the first phase of the pandemic is behind us."
According to local daily Bild, the government has granted the German Football League (DFL) permission to set its return date in the second half of this month, with next Friday the earliest possible option.
It is set to have a conference meeting with its 36 clubs today to fine-tune the details for the Bundesliga and the second tier's resumption.
Expressing his delight at the Bundesliga being the first major European football league to be given the green light to proceed, DFL chief executive officer Christian Seifert said: "Today's decision is good news. It is associated with a great responsibility for the clubs and their employees to implement the medical and organisational requirements in a disciplined manner.
"Games without spectators are not an ideal solution for anyone. In a crisis threatening the very existence of some clubs, however, it is the only way to keep the leagues in their current form."
How the top flight navigates the Covid-19 minefield in the coming weeks will be closely watched by other leagues seeking a way to salvage their season.
The DFL has implemented and will enforce a strict set of health and safety protocols to minimise the risk of contracting the disease.
While there will inevitably be players who will not take the measures seriously, Bayern Munich captain Manuel Neuer has called on his peers to show a sense of responsibility.
"We are in the shirt of role models now," the Germany skipper told local daily Allgemeine Zeitung yesterday. "We wear another shirt now. Even from other European countries, and indeed all over the world, people will be looking at us."
PART OF NIGHTMARE IS OVER
We have talked about sports and recreation and the Bundesliga, which will be able to resume operation soon. We can safely state the first phase of the pandemic is behind us.
ANGELA MERKEL, German Chancellor.